Monday, 25 March 2013

Incredibly simple very juicy ham

This lovely piece of organic smoked ham gave us two warm and delicious meals to fend off this ridiculously snowy weather: slow cooked ham shredded and eaten with cabbage & sour dough bread and a simple but robust risotto. The secret ingredient? Lashings of Colman's English mustard!

- Take a good quality free range smoked ham, put it in a large pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil slowly to allow the excess salt to escape into the water. Drain and pat dry.
- Stud the ham with 8-12 cloves then slather it very liberally with Colman's English Mustard and put it into your slow cooker. Sprinkle brown sugar generously across the whole ham, letting it stick to the mustard. Pour a glass of cloudy apple juice into the base of the slow cooker and you're done.
- Switch the slow cooker on low & head out to work, read a book or have a nap - leave the ham for at least 4 hours, more ideally about 6-8 hours.

What you will get is the most beautiful, juicy, tender ham that will come apart easily with just a little coaxing from a couple of forks. Serve with lightly steamed cabbage with the cooking liqueur spooned over the meat and some sour dough bread to mop it up.

The leftovers will make an unusual risotto with a sweetness from the apple & sugar with a deep warming hum from the mustard. Perfetto!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Lifting the spirits – Thai Curry Liqueur

Christmas is well and truly over. The snow has melted, the sky is grey, the drizzle permeates every mood and my 40th birthday looms out of the fog like a great craggy rock I simply can’t navigate around. 

What I need is something bright, clean and startling to look forward to and lift my mood. Inspired by the Thai flavours discernible in my beer of choice this Christmas Adnams 2% Ginger Beer and bolstered by the success of my festive Spiced Pumpkin Liqueur I’m trying out a whole new set of flavours with some sweet and sharp Thai Curry Liqueur.  OK, so that’s a bit of a misnomer, a bit of poetic license, but it does sound fun! I’ve gone for the classic base of the lightest and most uplifting of Thai dishes and sour soups: lemongrass, Thai basil and lime.  The colours and smells alone are enough to evoke long days of wandering around temples, the sound of tiny cymbals and of food eaten outside in a tropical climate…

The ingredients could hardly be simpler:

4 limes
1 bunch of Thai basil

6 stalks of lemongrass

1litre of decent quality vodka

A cup and a half of caster sugar
A cup and a half of water

I sliced the lemongrass stalks along their length several times, without cutting through the base – this will prove far less messy when straining and looks much prettier in the bottle, but a good rough chopping would work just as well taste-wise.  I popped them upright into a nice big Kilner jar and packed the Thai basil around the base of the stalks. I then added the zest of three of the limes – any more and I’m worried they would over-power the subtler taste and fragrance of the lemon grass but I’ll have to wait a month to find out if it is enough. The vodka went in next, coming up to  two thirds of the way up the jar. 

It may look like the bottom of a pond but I am optimistic!

In a pan, I very slowly heated the sugar and water with the juice of all four limes until the sugar was totally melted then let it simmer to reduce the liquid by about a fifth so that it was very slightly viscous and incredibly sticky (as were my kitchen, my hair and the cats as a result – I made quite a mess...).  

Once the syrup was completely cooled, it was added slowly to the jar of vodka and herbs and swirled very gently until mixed. This is a new method for me – the last liqueur I made had the much thinner syrup added after the infusion process, which resulted in a thinner consistency to the finished product. Though that worked very well indeed as a warming Christmas tipple and New Year cocktail ingredient, I want something altogether sweeter and headier to help me look forward to Spring. So, we shall see what difference the new method makes.  I have a vague notion that the sugar will turn to alcohol but I think this is based on hazy memory of a beer advert rather than based in actual chemistry…

Come back in a month to see the results!

Friday, 14 December 2012

SHOCKingly good local produce

Here in Enfield we are experiencing an exciting new phenomenon: the SHOCK Cash Mob. Conceived and brought to fruition by the seemingly tireless Karen Mercer, owner of the wonderful My Coffee Stop at Enfield Chase railway station, the SHOCK Cash Mobs are a fun, engaging and inclusive way to get people to think about using independent local businesses rather than falling back on the big supermarkets out of habit (as so many of us do). The idea is really very simple: a group of people (opting in via the Facebook page)  gather at a pre-arranged meeting point, each clutching a tenner which they pledge to spend in whichever local shop Karen has picked for that day.  Nobody (except Karen) knows in advance where it will be and the shop owner is also kept entirely in the dark.  The first unsuspecting recipient of the enterprise was Jill Simpson at The Village Wholefood Store and it was a tremendous success, bringing new customers to the shop. They then went on to spread the word via Facebook about both the SHOCK Cash Mobs and the shop itself. The SHOCK Cash Mobs have since hit several other businesses with similarly joyous results all round. We have so many really great local independent businesses in Enfield, even before you consider the wonderfully eclectic market that opperates on Thursday, Friday & Saturday (everything from books to basques to bags to baking to Brussels sprouts).  It seems such a shame that it is still so much easier to fall into the supermarkets than to make the effort to get really inspired by the great food options on our doorsteps. This of course is true of villages, towns and cities all over the country, not just in our corner of Northern-most London.

Before the big reveal

Last Sunday I went along to my first Shock Cash Mob and great fun it was too!  We met at Enfield Chase station & there was a palpable air of excitement as we all posed for photographs with our ten pound notes and waited for the big reveal... The destination was to be Botany Bay Farm Shop (no website to link to - sorry) slightly out of town, set on farm grounds.  Apart from the fact that the poor woman running the shop (not the business owner I should state) was more than a little taken aback at being suddenly besieged by a rowdy gang of about fourteen adults and seven children, it was a resounding success in terms of a shopping experience.  

Arrival at Botany Bay

Some of the Mob crowding into the shop with our tenners
As the children went to investigate the various dogs, donkeys, ducks & chickens dotted around the place, we grownups fell to shopping with vigour. Outside is a barn filled with really beautiful seasonal fruit & vegetables, displayed in baskets and boxes around the walls.  Inside the shop is where to find the meat section (always my first destination) at the back and a staggering array of eggs (and what a choice of egg varieties too!) biscuits, cakes, jams, chutneys, dairy products, sweets, drinks and other ridiculously tempting treats.  Back to the meat though: all the meat here is free range of course and the pork products all from Gloucester Old Spot pigs.  

Perusing the produce



I was fairly restrained, buying only some properly smokey thickly cut streaky bacon, an impressive slab of belly pork, a couple of rib eye steaks and some diced beef for stewing.  Having polished it all off now, I can tell you that it was absolutely of the highest quality.  The stewing beef made a hearty goulash, the belly became a slow cooked treat in a SE Asian broth (no surprise there to those who know me) and the bacon & rib eye both shone on their own as the butcher intended.   The thing that I found really stunning was that I came away with a large haul of fresh vegetables and all the meat listed above but parted with only £25!  Had I bought the same things in any one of the big supermarkets, the produce would have been vastly inferior and the price tag much higher. So, slightly grumpy service notwithstanding, Botany Bay comes very high on my list of favourite local places to stock up on a week's worth of food.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Spiced Pumpkin liqueur - the end result

So, the roast pumpkin, along with the chilli, cinnamon stick and scattering of cloves I roasted with it have been steeping in vodka now for four weeks.  The liquid itself is a rather uninspiring pale orangy-brown but tastes gloriously of roasted pumpkin with a fine fiery kick from the chilli.

Having strained the pumpkin out with a normal strainer & discarded all the solids, we strained the flavoured spirit through four layers of muslin into a large mixing bowl where I added the mulled syrup, also strained through the muslin (see earlier post for syrup recipe) in order to turn it from rather tasty but eye-watering firewater into an enjoyable little sipping tipple.

Straining the firewater
The dregs - delicious but deadly!

Filling the bottles

Though the resulting liqueur is still the rather uninspiring colour of weak orange cordial, it really is delicious! 

The end result

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Spicy Pumpkin liqueur - the genesis

So, having been inspired by writing about Christmas drinks past I thought I'd post very briefly about the beginnings of my new project.

Having read on the great Food52 about the rather delicious sounding Butternut Squash 5-spice Liqueur, I had a quick look around my kitchen and realised I had all the ingredients to make something vaguely similar myself.  I had a knobbly little pumpkin we got from the nice biodynamic fruit & veg stall at the Crew's Hill Farmers' Market last week and had forgotten about, some left over mulling syrup (see below for the recipe) in the fridge and about quarter of a bottle of vanilla vodka - an excellent start. 

I chopped up the pumpkin into roughly inch square pieces and put them in a roasting dish with 5 whole cloves, a cinnamon stick and a red chilli then roasted them in a medium oven for about 40 minutes until they were soft but not falling apart.

Into a nice big Kilner jar the whole lot went, topped up with a 700ml bottle of plain Absolut vodka and about 80ml of the vanilla Absolut for good measure. 

All I need to do now is wait patiently for 2-3 weeks, drain the vodka, add the mulling syrup & with any luck a new seasonal liqueur will be born.  Watch this space...

Festive drinks – alcoholic & otherwise (but mostly alcoholic)

Mulled cider / wine

Every year I make mulled cider on Guy Fawkes’ Night (5th November).  I’m not keen on the whole burning-effigy-of-a-person aspect of the evening but love absolutely everything else. We have lots of people round, grill up a vast amount of sausages & corn on the cob, provide some roughly cut up baguettes in lieu of plates or cutlery and most importantly there’s the mulled cider.  All this serves to stoke the boilers before we head out into the cold to watch fireworks and play with sparklers and fire.  I generally make a smaller pan of mulled apple juice for children & drivers too – just as tasty, not quite as fun.

Very simply, mulling cider, wine or juice goes like this (assuming three litres of chosen beverage):

NB: if you are mulling red wine, I would go with a solution of 3 parts wine to 1 part orange juice but that’s just me – most people use the wine neat.

Start with a decent cider – it doesn’t have to be the expensive artisanal stuff but if you use Diamond White or Brain-Death-Thunder (or whatever it’s called) it is going to taste like you did, so don’t. Fill a large pan with the cider and add some soft brown sugar, more than you think you should (for 3 litres of cider for example I would use 5-6 tablespoons) as both cider & wine lose their sweetness when heated.  To the pan add 5-6 whole cinnamon sticks, at least 10 whole cloves (I use more because I like it spicy), some whole star anise, whole mace, the zest of an orange and some all spice berries.  Warm the mixture through but make sure not to simmer or boil (doing so will evaporate the alcohol & we don’t want that!) then switch it off, cover & leave for a few hours to steep.  Switch the heat back on half an hour or so before people arrive so the warm spicy smell fills the kitchen and keep the pan warm on a low heat.  I like to add thinly sliced apple and / or orange just because it’s pretty.

It’s worth noting that there is always some left over (as I generally make far too much) and it is very nice chilled too – lightly spicy & refreshing. 

Child-friendly mulled apple juice

Mulling syrup

If you can’t be bothered spending hours mulling your cider / wine and don’t want to use those little teabag type things you can get for the purpose, you can make a mulling syrup and use it as & when you fancy.  It is particularly useful if you just want to make one or two glasses rather than a whole batch – warm through a little wine or cider, add your syrup & stir.

This is a very useful recipe indeed as it keeps in the fridge pretty much forever and only improves with age.  I took a recipe from the excellent BBC GoodFood and simply added extra cloves, some mace and a few star anise. 

  • 250g caster or granulated sugar
  • 2 oranges, halved
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 6 whole allspice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ¼ nutmeg , freshly grated
  • small piece ginger, sliced
  • Put all the ingredients into a saucepan with 1 litre water and bring slowly to a simmer, making sure all the sugar has been completely dissolved. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 mins. Leave to cool, then strain through a very fine sieve.
  • Sterilise your bottles by washing them in hot soapy water, rinsing well, then drying them in a warm oven. Meanwhile, rewarm the syrup until just hot, then pour into the bottles while still hot and seal.

  Christmas spirits

Last year I had a go at infusing spirits, having sampled & enjoyed many such things in Italy, France & Spain.   I wanted to start simply so came up with two very basic recipes:  a vodka-based digestif and a spiced rum for exciting Christmas cocktails.  They were incredibly quick & simple to make (though patience is required for the steeping time) and looked very pretty as stocking fillers.

The most important thing is to start with fairly reliable spirits.  What you end up with is an infusion rather than a sweet, heavily flavoured liqueur so the base spirit has got to be pleasant enough to sip on its own or in a cocktail.   The method could not be simpler – you choose your flavours, add them to the base and wait for six weeks.  Voila.

Digestif - As a digestif is intended to be served after a meal in order to aid digestion, it seemed sensible to use herbs that perform that function naturally in my infusion.  In this case I used fennel (seeds and fronds) and aniseed.  

Spiced rum – Some curls of orange zest very carefully cleaned of all bitter pith, cloves and cinnamon went into this and made some very good aromatic cocktails.  It was also delicious added in a very small quantity to a lightly sweetened hot milk at bedtime. I have found recently that it also makes excellent hot buttered rum!
The finished product
Pretty stocking fillers