Sunday, 31 October 2010

Loaves and Fishes

A second order from fishinabox has landed me some lovely hake fillets. I've wanted to try hake after seeing Hugh FW cook with it as an alternative to cod. Seemingly hake is much more sustainable than cod so worth a try.

My impression on looking at the fillets was how 'meaty' they looked and a lovely colour, more creamy coloured than cod.  I had an urge to make a fish pie, lovely comfort food to mark the changing of the clocks.  

Earlier in the day I'd bought a delicious rosemary and walnut granary loaf from the baker at our local market, so a simple supper of fish pie and rosemary and walnut bread for a late autumn evening.  The sweetness and crunch of the walnuts went beautifully with the delicate fish flavour and soft texture of the pie.

Simple Fish Pie
Serves 4
400g hake fillets or other white fish
300ml milk
half an onion, peeled and sliced
5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
50g butter
3 tbsp plain flour
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small leek, washed and sliced
half an onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
half a glass of dry white wine
potatoes mashed with butter and yoghurt to cover the pie
grated parmesan

Dry the fish with kitchen paper and place in a frying pan.  Pour over the milk and add the peppercorns, onion slices and bay leaf. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fish flakes.  Remove the fish and place on a plate. Strain the cooking juices through a sieve and reserve, discard the peppercorns, onion slices and bay leaf.

Whilst the fish is cooking add the chopped carrot, onion, leek and garlic to a saucepan with a glug of oil and gently heat to soften the onion. Add the wine and the parsley and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

Using the reserved cooking juices from the fish make a white sauce as follows. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir well to remove any lumps and cook gently for a minute or two. Gradually add the cooking juices, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil and then simmer for a few minutes.

Now make up the pie by adding the flaked fish and the winey vegetable mixture to the white sauce. Put the combined ingredients into a pie dish.  Cover with the creamy mashed potatoes and sprinkle over the parmesan.

Put the pie dish on a  tray and bake in the oven at 200C for about 30 minutes. Then serve in wide bowls (pasta bowls are good) with a couple of chunky slices of buttered rosemary and walnut bread...yummee!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Thinking of Apples and Christmas Cheer

Two months ago, 11th of September to be exact, I found a recipe for an Apple Liqueur and thought I'd give it a go.  I didn't blog about it at the time as I wanted to get someway towards the finished product before I mentioned it here.

So here's the story so far...I had a small number of very large apples from our Cox's Orange Pippin - they weighed between 6-8 ounces each.  With some brandy left over from last year's Wedding Cake and some vodka from my Dad's visit to Holly Grove also last year, all I needed to add was some sugar.

Giant Cox's Apples
Starting the liqueur was fairly simple.  About 1.25 pounds of apples are washed and then sliced in a food processor, or by hand with a good sharp knife - no need to peel just core and remove any damaged parts.

Pack the sliced apple into ajar and cover with 1 cup of brandy and 1 cup of vodka. I also added a cinnamon stick.  Put the lid on the jar, label with the start date and put in a cool dark place - mine went in the pantry.  Then leave for a month for the fruit to absorb the alcohol.

Ready to store for one month

When a month has gone by drain the liquor through a sieve and squeeze the fruit pulp to extract as much liquid as possible.  Then strain the liquid through very fine muslin or through a coffee filter, as I did.  Combine 3/8 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of water, bring to a boil and then cool.  Add this syrup to the liquor and stir well.  Return this liquid to the clean jar, seal and relabel with the second stage date and place in a cool, dark place for another month. 

Twice filtered juice
When another month has passed, repeat the straining and filtering process and bottle your liqueur. 
Here's one I made earlier
Leave for another month and then enjoy!  I made 500ml of apple liqueur with these quantities and am looking forward to tasting the results at Christmas time - cheers!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hubble, Bubble

Hurrah!  The cider fermentation started in the bucket evidenced by bubbles and foam.  Yesterday evening I took the next step in the process...into the demi-john with the brew.

This stage is known as racking off.  I started by sterilising the demi-john, syphon tube and airlock in a solution of Milton sterilising fluid.  Whist that was underway I went out into the garden for a few hours of general autumn border and kitchen garden tidying.  I've cut out this season's fruiting canes from the raspberries and  tied in the canes in neat rows for next summer's fruit year.  It all looks very neat and orderly.  Then I addressed the annual bedding which was looking very sorry for itself after our first real frost of the season on Sunday night.  The raised beds in the kitchen garden were next on the list for a sowing of green manure; but I ran out of daylight, so back to the kitchen and back to the cider...

The sterilised dj was placed on a small step stool on the floor and the bucket of fermenting juice on the island unit worktop.  Then the syphon tube was placed into the juice and then suck on the tube to start the juice down the tube and into the dj, without getting a mouthful of yeasty apple juice, unfortunately NOT!  But it didn't taste as bad as I expected, but then why should it? it's going to be tasty cider after all, isn't it?

Lovely Pink Juice
What struck me most was the lovely pale raspberry colour, this must be from the deep red apple skins and, thinking about it, even when I make apple pies and crumbles with this variety the flesh of the apple has a pinkish tinge.  I wonder if it will hold this colour in the finished I am getting ahead of myself.

I  successfully racked off the fermenting juice with a little help from the Handyman; though no photos of this process as there was no-one free to hold the camera! The airlock with some sterilised water in it was inserted into the neck of the dj and then we watched and waited anxiously for the first air bubble to make its way through the airlock...YES!  

Fermentation Continues!
How exciting is this - one of the highlights of life in a country cottage - some may say 'get a life' well I think I have a very good one!  So where to keep the fermenting juice, somewhere away from curious cats, in the pantry will do and I can peep in on it from time to time.  More cider news in the next couple of weeks when it will be time to rack off again into a clean dj and allow fermentation to complete.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Juicing the Fruits

Part 2 of the Holly Grove cider making experiment began with washing the apples.  We are lucky enough to have a large butler's sink in our utility room which makes the job of washing all the apples a little bit quicker and easier.  They were quite dirty as most of them were windfalls with only a handful picked straight from the tree, so this was quite a water-intensive process.  I would put the used water in our water butts, if they weren't already full to overflowing with the recent rain!

With the apples cleaned I began to cut them into quarters. A useful tip that I picked up whilst researching cider making is to cut the apple horizontally through the middle creating a star-shaped core. This will show up any little creatures burrowing their way to the centre of the apple and allow you to discard/cut out the damage. Once quartered and any damaged flesh removed, it's on to the pomace (pulp) making stage.

It is at this point that I digress from official cider-making wisdom as I'm going to make my pomace in my little food processor; a gift from my Mum about 13 years ago and still going strong; and extract the juice from my apples using my new fruit steamer...and how long will that take you? I hear cider makers around the country cry...well...

Little Mouli Processor
My Shiny New Steamer

After filling the reservoir of the steamer with boiling water I began to add the chopped apples in batches as they were processed. After about 45 minutes I had filled the fruit steamer to the brim with pomace and then it was just a case of keeping an eye on the water level to ensure the steamer didn't boil dry and running off the resulting juice into the fermentation bucket as it filled its allotted space in the steamer.

Pomace from the Processor
Whilst the juice was being generated I made our evening meal and set about a bit (huge pile) of ironing, then after about 3 hours I had my gallon of pasteurised apple juice.  As the juice is extracted using steam it pasteurises as it goes.  This means that any yeasts on the apples are destroyed, removing the need to use Camden tablets in the cider production.  Cider can be made using the naturally occurring yeasts but, by all accounts, this is a bit hit and miss, so I'm using a champagne yeast in my brew.

One Gallon of Apple Juice
Mash after Juice Extraction

So a gallon doesn't look much but my idea is to experiment this season and learn from the process.  Once this gallon is in a demi-john, hopefully within the next 2 to 3 days, then I'll go through the steps again to make a second gallon next weekend.  When the Handyman and I saw the mash that remained after the juice had been extracted it made us wish for a pig to polish it off, we settled for adding it to the compost heap.  So now our heap smells deliciously of apple!

Beginning of Fermentation?
The final step for this part of the process was to allow the lovely deep pink juice to cool down, it comes out of the steamer boiling hot. The yeast, about 1 teaspoon, was mixed with warm water and added to the cooled juice in the fermentation bucket and the lid popped on. Now all I can do is wait to see if the juice begins to ferment.

I know that my process won't do for more than a gallon of juice but it works for me as I love to be in the kitchen and can easily occupy myself with cooking and baking whilst the juice is generated.  I suppose that if we wanted to use more of our apples in cider production then we'll have to consider a cider press, but for this season and this experiment the little Mouli and the shiny fruit steamer will do.

I should also credit one of the most useful websites for simple cider making that I found whilst searching for information, refreshingly named - How to make cider.

I'll post more in the next week to update on the fermentation or not of the brew.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cider Making Beginnings

The Handyman and I have been talking about attempting cider making with some of the Holly Grove apples since we moved here just over 3 years ago.  With everything else we've been doing this has slipped down the priority list, but this year I'm going to have a stab at the process.

I've been reading a lot on-line and in books and, though an absolute novice, I'm going to try a more simple approach that doesn't require a cider press and a still room to store the huge quantities of pomace (technical jargon for pulp), demi-johns etc.  I may live to regret this approach, but at least I'll have tried.

I've purchased a fermentation bucket, a couple of demi-johns with airlocks, a hydrometer, a syphon tube and suitable yeast.  I tried to get hold of cider yeast to no avail, it seems to be sold out, probably as it's apple harvest time.  One of the sites recommended using champagne yeast as a substitute, so that's what I've got.  I'm using Milton sterilising fluid to prepare the bucket etc.

My plan is to make 2 gallons of cider which, by most accounts, requires about 48 pounds of apples!  I'm going to mix our unnamed variety of cooking apple and the lovely red eating apple on our old apple trees together with a small proportion of crab apples from our Red Sentinel tree.  So let the gathering of apples begin...

...and 45 minutes later, here's what 48 pounds of apples looks like...almost all are windfalls with little or no bruising with only about 2 pounds of crab apples - well it's a very young tree.  

Time to sterilise the fermentation bucket and then on to the juicing of the fruit...more updates to follow at each stage of the process, successful or not!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Chicken(less) Noodle Soup

First Time Lucky!

Amongst the blogs I follow is Tinned Tomatoes where Jacqueline co-hosts a monthly challenge, No Croutons Required, so this month I decided to try my luck.  The ingredient selected for the October challenge is noodles.

I have a great recipe from my Dad for chicken noodle soup, but then I noticed that the challenge is to create a vegetarian soup or salad; so what about chicken noodle soup without the chicken?  Worth a try?  And how to make it as tasty as the original?  And what seasonal produce can I incorporate?  Well, let's see what transpired...

Mushroom and Noodle Soup
1tbsp rapeseed oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 small swede, peeled and diced
250g mixed portabellini and chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
half tsp chilli flakes
2.5 pts vegetable stock
2 tbsp mushroom ketchup
1 portion fine egg noodles
salt and pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Add the onion and leek and cook gently until transluscent.  Add the carrot and swede and continue to sweat gently with the lid on for about 5 minutes.  Now add the mushrooms, put the lid back on and cook until the mushrooms have reduced in volume.  Add the chilli flakes and stir well.
Pour the vegetable stock and mushroom ketchup into the vegetables and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Break up and add the egg noodles and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes until the noodles are soft.  Add the parsley and stir.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper and serve with vegetable spring rolls.

Note: I made my own vegetable stock, though you can use vegetable stock cubes, just be careful when
seasoning the soup as the stock cubes can be salty.

Tinned Tomatoes: No Croutons Required - Noodles

My entry for October's challenge -  Mushroom and Noodle Soup

Friday, 15 October 2010

Lots of Lovely Fruit Juice - Hopefully!

I've been looking for a reliable and easy way to preserve fruit juice and last year bought a Samson 6 in 1 juicer.  It has worked well and extract lots of juice but the juice then needs to be pasteurised in order to be stored for more than a day or so.  I could freeze the juice but freezer space is at a premium at Holly Grove.  The other drawback to this juicer is that it is messy to use and awkward to clean.  On the plus side it does have other uses such as mincing etc.

It was interesting to read a review of steaming for juice extraction on The Cottage Smallholder that encouraged me to search for further recommendations which I found here.  

As a result of these posts and a bit more research on line I've just ordered a Beka Fruit Steamer from Amazon - Amazon have a 20% off offer on this steamer until 20th October.  It should arrive tomorrow and I can't wait to juice some of our apple harvest - I'll post a review once I've tried it out.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Family Event

I had the most lovely news yesterday afternoon - my first granddaughter was born!  My overnight bag has been in the car for about 10 days awaiting this event, so off I went to Yorkshire to meet Maya Susan for the first time.  

So what has this got to do with a cooking blog, not a lot other than, as you can see, she's a real sweetie and I want to share my joy...oh, and whilst staying at my son's house I baked a large chocolate cake to serve to all the inevitable and welcome visitors.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

My First Veg Box

On Thursday my first organic veg box from a local farm arrived.  The variety of veg was not bad given the time of year - there were a few potatoes (glad there were not too many as we still have a lot of our own potatoes), four large leeks, some carrots and onions, a handful of runner beans, a cauliflower, a cabbage, a very large swede and some curly kale.

We like our vegetables but this is quite a lot to get through before the veg starts to deteriorate and our freezer is already full to bursting with Holly Grove produce, so I had to make things that would use the maximum amount of veg in the shortest time.

First on the list was something to accompany fillets of trout that I had bought for our supper on Thursday.  The runner beans were an obvious choice and something using some of the lovely leeks, but what?  Then I remembered a dish that my Mum used to make when I was a child - stovies!  Any Scots reading this may need no further explanation, though from my experience family recipes vary.  The stovies my Mum made used potatoes, onions, butter and milk and it was cooked in a saucepan on top of the stove; this delicious concoction would be served in bowls with crusty, well buttered bread - real comfort food.

My interpretation is really a variation of dauphinois and uses leeks instead of onions - posh stovies.  The dish was perfect with the simply cooked trout and runner beans, the richness of the stovies went so well with the lightness of the fish - lovely!

A vegetable curry was next on the list and delicious it was too - that was Friday night's meal served with naan and vegetable pakoras.

Then using some beef from the local butcher and leeks, carrots, onions and swede I made a large slow cooked casserole - some eaten last night and the rest for a pie filling for tonight's supper.  The pie I'll serve with creamed potato and swede and some of the dark curly kale.

After all of this there is still enough veg left to make a warming soup and some vegetable stock that I may just be able to squeeze into the freezer - phew!  To be honest I'm not sure veg boxes are for me, I think I'd rather select my veg myself and probably buy smaller quantities more often, but it has been an interesting experience and reminded me of a childhood dish long forgotten - oh, and here's my recipe...

Posh Stovies
Serves 2-3
125ml double cream
125ml milk
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 bay leaf
good grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper
2 good sized potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large leek, cleaned and thickly sliced
leaves stripped from a few sprigs of fresh thyme
a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Put the first five ingredients in a saucepan and simmer together for 5 minutes to infuse the milk/cream mixture.  Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.

Take an earthenware ovenproof dish and grease generously with softened butter.  Lay a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle with some of the thyme, add the leek slices in a layer over the potatoes and then cover the leek with another layer of potatoes, sprinkle the remaining thyme over the potatoes.

Pour the milk/cream mixture over the layered potato and leek.  Oil the inside of a piece of tinfoil and then use this to cover the dish, oilside down.  Put the dish on a baking sheet in the oven 200C for about 40 minutes or until the potato is soft.  Remove the foil and press down the potatoes with the back of a serving spoon then sprinkle over the parmesan and return to the oven for about 10 minutes until the top is golden.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Autumn's Harvest

I can't resist the 2 for 1 offers on late season English plums in the local supermarket; plums being one of my most favourite seasonal fruits; but even I can't eat 2kgs of plums in the few days before they become overripe.

Variety - Sunset
Three seasons ago we planted a young apple tree, the variety Sunset, and this year we had a very reasonable crop from such an immature tree.  They are lovely eating apples but I have been pleased to see how well they hold up when used in pies and crumbles.  With a few remaining I thought I'd try to combine them with the supermarket plums in jam making.

Gleaming jars of lovely jam

The result is a beautifully rich coloured and fine tasting jam - so why not make the most of the supermarket offers or your own harvest or, like me, a combination of shop bought and homegrown - cost effective and delicious!

Plum and Apple Jam
Makes just over 2lbs
1lb plums, halved and stoned
1lb apples, peeled, cored and sliced
18 fl ozs water
juice of half a lemon
1.5 lbs granulated sugar

Put the plums, apples, lemon juice and water in apreserving pan and bring slowly to a boil.  reduce heat to obtain a fast simmer and leave for about one hour, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is very soft and the mixture reduced by about half.

Take the pan off the heat and add the sugar.  Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved, then stir in a knob of butter.  Return to the heat and bring back to a fast boil, after about 10-15 minutes the jam should have reached setting point, if using a sugar thermometer this will be temperature of 105C.

Remove the pan from the heat and using a slotted spoon lift off any scum.  Now pour the jam into warm sterilsed jars and seal immediately.  Allow to cool, then label and store in a cool, dark cupboard.
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