Friday, 9 September 2011

Dash for Damsons

I allowed myself to be so distracted with the courgette glut that I almost missed the damson harvest.  Our two damson trees, like all plums this year, have produced loads of fruits and they are at their peak now with a few just a little too ripe.

Anyway, i gathered as much as I thought I could process only to find that I had run out of jam jars, disaster!  So what to do with all the fruit gathered, well there's always damson gin and I did have a couple of large jars available and the required sugar and gin, so that solved the problem for about 1kg of the crop...

ready for shaking
Now what to do with the remaining 4kg?  Fortunately I have recently purchased a second freezer so I bagged up the damsons in 500g lots and into the freezer they went.

ready for freezing
I'm now sending begging emails to friends for jam jars and on receipt of these I'll be retrieving the damsons from their arctic conditions and turning them into jams and cheeses...and perhaps another batch of damson gin?

Easy, Peasy Damson Gin
Take 450g of damsons, prick with cocktail stick, and pop into a clean sterilised jar.  Cover with 225g sugar and then pour in 600ml of gin.  Seal the jar and shake vigorously.  Store in a cool dark place and shake every day for about 8 weeks.  Taste a couple of times during this period and add more sugar if required.  After about 10 weeks strain and bottle.

Note: Try to keep the gin as long as you can; it will definately improve with age, so make some this year for Christmas 2012.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Something from the Garden

I haven't been posting much on my kitchen blog recently spending most of my free time in Holly Grove's garden; then I saw that the No Croutons Required challenge for September hosted by Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen would allow me to combine both garden and kitchen.

Like most people who have the luxury of a kitchen garden or vegetable plot I've been growing a couple of courgette (zucchini) plants and have had the usual mammoth crop.  I've used much of the crop in ratatouille, vegetable curries, homemade preserved vegetable stock, and even muffins and chocolate cake.  I've also given some away to friends who don't grow their own veg and I've still got some left over!

So with the weather turning autumnal and the french and runner beans in full production too my thoughts turned to creating a soup with courgette as the main component.

runner beans and Purple Queen french beans
The result has been interesting and tasty, though not a very attractive colour I'll admit.  However it has used up more courgettes, giving us a few healthy lunches with some for the freezer for those evenings when I'm back at work and don't have the energy or enthusiasm to cook much and best of all, all of the ingredients (with the exception of the dried pulses) came from our garden.  It's been difficult to give absolute quantities of ingredients as it was more of a try it and see recipe, but here goes...

Courgette and Runner Bean Soup
1 large onion (peeled and diced)
2 garlic cloves (peeled and crushed)
4 large courgettes (washed and cut into chunks)
a good handful of french and runner beans (topped and tailed and cut into short lengths)
1 tsp ground cumin
75g broth mix (dried pulses including peas, pearl barley, lentils)
1.5 litres vegetable stock (made with either good quality stock cubes or 2 tsp homemade preserved stock)
2 or 3 tsp curry paste (I used Goan paste; similar to a Thai green curry paste but a little less spicy)

Add about 1 tablespoon of oil to a large stock pot then add the onion and garlic and cook gently until softened but not browned.  Now add the courgette, beans and cumin and mix thoroughly with the onion and garlic.  Cook gently for a couple of minutes.

Add the broth mix and the vegetable stock and curry paste.  Stir well and bring the soup to a gentle simmer.  Cook for between 1 and 2 hours to allow the dried pulses to cook through.

Remove from heat and blend with a stick blender. 
Serve the soup in bowls or large cups with some garlic ciabatta.

Note: If your runner beans are a it stringy I'd suggest passing the blended soup through a sieve to remove the stringy bit of the beans. Our beans were lovely and young so no need to sieve.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Jar Full of Vegetable Stock

I'm frequently saying to myself that I really ought to make my own vegetable stock but I never seem to have the time and so reach for the stock cube jar; so how exciting to find a recipe for a homemade version of the stock cube.

I can heartily recommend River Cottage Handbook No 2 Preserves as a mine of interesting preserving ideas amongst which can be found a recipe for a preserved vegetable stock mix.  I amended the recipe to suit the vegetables I had available and basically it goes like this:

Makes about 3 jars
about 900g washed, peeled and chopped vegetables (I used leek, onion, courgette, peppers, runner beans, carrots)
3 cloves garlic
200g fresh herbs (I used thyme, sage, rosemary and parsley)
250g salt (don't reduce the amount of salt as this is the preservative)

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until blended to a granular paste. Then simply put into sterilised jars and seal.  The 'stock cube' paste will keep for six months unopened. Once opened keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.

Note: The recipe recommends adding 2 tsp to 500ml of water to make the stock.  I found this a bit salty for my taste so added 2 tsp to 1lt of water.
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