Archives for category: Winter

The next in my series of homemade Christmas presents: quince paste (membrillo to the Spanish). It didn’t feature in my gift plans until I saw two gloriously enormous quinces outside the Moroccan deli. It was an impulse buy, but the sort that doesn’t leave you with buyer’s remorse. The owner was quite curious about what I would be doing with them (in Morocco, he said, they would stew it with lamb).

I’m afraid that, like the previous two recipes, this one is quite time consuming, but you don’t have to do much during that time other than be around. I plan to give it to people in slabs with a nice piece of cheese, some manchego or a Cashel blue maybe. The basic recipe I used comes from Stevie Parle (see also: other quince recipes) and he suggests putting it inside a roasting game bird or eating it on toast. I think it would also be nice instead of the jam layer in a bakewell tart, or in small pieces in an apple pie or crumble (I think I’ve stolen that last idea from somewhere).

Quince paste

Makes as much as you have quinces

Where I differed from Stevie’s recipe was to blend the mixture to make a smooth paste, for aesthetic neatness. You can skip this for a coarser paste.

Quinces (I used two large ones which weighed just over 1kg)
About the same amount of sugar as quince

Preheat the oven to 180c. Put the whole quinces in a deep roasting tin, add 2.5cm water and cover with foil. Bake for two hours, or until completely soft. Take them out and leave them until they’re cool enough to handle.

Pull the quinces apart and discard the hard core. Any soft bits, including the skin, can be kept, although you might want to get rid of any black bits that you don’t want in the paste. Weigh the soft flesh and the remaining liquid from the tray and put it in a saucepan – preferably with a heavy base – along with roughly the same amount of sugar (if you want to use a bit less, another recipe I consulted suggested three quarters sugar to quince pulp.) Put the pan on a low heat, stir and cook until the paste turns a deep red colour. If you want to blend it, you can do this when the sugar has dissolved using a hand-held blender. Stevie says this cooking process ‘might take an hour’ – it took me an hour and three quarters. It might seem like nothing is happening at first, but it will darken a lot and start to thicken considerably. You just need to stir it occasionally and check it’s not sticking on the bottom of the pan.

When it’s ready, pour it into a tray lined with baking parchment and leave it to set. Wrapped up pieces can be kept in an airtight box.

Adapted from Stevie Parle’s ‘Real Food From Near and Far’


In my last post I suggested that a batch of rosehip syrup might prove handy with the Christmas gift season approaching. Today I have another homemade present idea, and this one has already been tried and tested on last year’s recipients. They almost all said it was too sweet, so I’ve tweaked the sugar content this year to make it as bitter as any true marmalade lover could wish. The one person who truly loved it last year, Tom’s brother-in-law, sent me a forlon facebook message the day his jar ran out, so apologies to him in advance if he now finds his favourite marmalade unpalatably sharp. Sorry Don.

The genius of this marmalade is the grapefruit and lemon, which contribute the sour element which you get in a traditional marmalade from Seville oranges. Since Seville oranges aren’t available until January and don’t last long, this means your marmalade-making season is extended, theoretically year round. I think of this as a winter thing, though, because of the citrus which are around in the colder months, and slightly more obtusely, because I associate homemade marmalade and grapefruit for breakfast with my family and Christmas time. My mum also introduced me to Campari and grapefruit, which is the drink equivalent of this: clean and reviving and bittersweet.

I plan to post some more recipes in the run up to Christmas for the edible presents I make – there are a few things that always seem well received (there have also been plenty that didn’t work out as I hoped…but I tend to think that chucking a substandard biscuit in the compost is less effort than transporting an unwanted gift set to Oxfam). Some of them are honestly less effort than rosehip syrup or marmalade, although I do like doing that kind of lengthy kitchen work at this time of year. Something about pottering around with the central heating on and laying in stores of things in jars is immensely satisfying.

Orange, grapefruit and lemon marmalade

Makes about 4.5kg (around 12 jars)

2 oranges and 2 grapefruit, weighing 1.3kg (I used 2 1/2 grapefruit to make up the amount)
4 unwaxed lemons
3.6 litres water
2.2 kg sugar

You will also need a huge saucepan, or to be prepared to split the ingredients between two big pans.

Wash the fruit (remember you’ll be eating the peel!) and cut in half. Squeeze out all the juice. Remove the membrane – a bit of determined scraping with a teaspoon should do the job. Cut the peel into quarters and slice the rind widthways into thin slivers. Put the rind in a bowl with the juice and water.

Put the membrane, including pips, in a muslin bag/clean tights/other thin porous material and add to the bowl. Leave this overnight.

The next day, simmer the fruits, with the bag of membrane, in your huge saucepan for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the peel is edibly soft (it must be really soft before the sugar is added, otherwise it will become irredeemably hardened). Make a note of the volume when you start – marking it on a wooden spoon is handy – so you know how much it has reduced by later. Cover the pan for the first half an hour, then uncover and allow the liquid to reduce, eventually to between a third and a half of its original volume.

While the liquid is reducing, warm the sugar in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes and sterilise your jars.

Remove and discard the muslin bag from the pan. Add the warmed sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook until it reaches setting point, which should take around 10 minutes*. Pour the marmalade into the sterilised jars and cover while still hot.

*To check setting point, put a saucer in the fridge until cold. Put a teaspoonful of marmalade onto the cold saucer and put it back in the fridge for a couple of minutes (turn off the marmalade while you do this to prevent it setting too hard). If the marmalade forms a wrinkle when you push it with your finger then it’s ready.
Adapted from Darina Allen’s ‘Ballymaloe Cookery Course’

A couple of weeks ago, I had a Sunday off, which is rare-ish for me. I never take Sundays for granted anymore, and I have decided that the best thing to do with them is to have lunch. Hardly a novel idea, I know, but I’ve let Sunday lunch slip over the years and now I want it back. When I was younger and at home we almost always had a traditional roast, which I didn’t really appreciate, being a fussy eater, unless it was beef or chicken, and we almost never had chicken. Inevitably, the leftover roast meat met the same fate on a Monday: cold beef with bubble and squeak, pork casserole, shepherd’s pie, chicken and mushroom pie. I loved that chicken pie as well.

When I left home to go to university I cast aside such routines in the light of my newfound independence and desire to contradict everything my parents stood for. I couldn’t really cook much, I was practically vegetarian and I spent all my excess money in Topshop, so Sunday lunch went out the window. It only returned years later in Oxford when Tom lived a couple of doors down from a pub that we could practically roll into from bed on a Sunday afternoon. The roasts were pretty terrible. The meat was the same colour whatever you ordered. The vegetables were boiled mercilessly. The gravy had a suspicious, glossy skin on it. I was happy to let Sunday lunch go again for a while.

Then, a few more weeks ago, I had a transformative Sunday lunch at the Magdalen Arms. There was a guinea fowl roasted in a Le Creuset casserole with chunks of smoked bacon and pale, creamy juice salty with smoked bacon and watercress on top. Comfort blanket mashed potato. A glass of wine. And then a very, very rich flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake with praline ice-cream and an espresso. That pretty much decided me that I need Sunday lunch in my life again. I’ve never been too attached to the traditional, British, meat and two veg school of lunching; all I want is something homemade and bolstering and company to eat it with. The following recipe is what we made for our friends Lizzy and Charlie when they came over on that Sunday I mentioned right at the start of this post. Their two year old, Ariella, didn’t eat much of it, but she had a good go. Afterwards we went for a walk and picked some sloes and noticed the acorns and autumnal leaves. It was a pretty great Sunday, as far as I’m concerned.

Beer braised short ribs with walnut dumplings

Serves 6

We made this on Sunday morning, but if I had thought ahead I might have recommended making this the day before you’re going to eat it. That way you can skim off some of the extra fat – the ribs have a big layer of it and the flavour and texture of that affects the final result – and reduce the sauce down if you want it thicker. And you won’t have to start chopping vegetables before you’ve even had your porridge.

Also, your ribs shouldn’t really look like the ones in the photo unless you have an absolutely giant pan; we should have asked our butcher to chop them into pieces…

2 tbsp vegetable/olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 onion
2 carrots
1 parsnip
1 celery stalk
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp plain flour
2 kg beef short ribs
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
finely grated zest of 1 orange
170ml freshly squeezed orange juice
375ml wheat beer
500ml beef stock

For the walnut dumplings:
185ml whole milk
1 egg
40g butter, melted
190g flour
30g potato flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange zest
3 tbsp walnuts, toasted
1 handful parsley

Chop the onion, carrot, parsnip and celery. Heat half the oil and butter in a large casserole dish or pan that can go in the oven. Saute the vegetables with the bay leaf for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining oil and butter to the dish. Season the flour and toss the short ribs in it, shaking off any excess, then brown the ribs (in batches if necessary) and set aside.

Add the garlic, spices, orange zest and juice, beer, stock and 375ml water to the casserole dish and stir, scraping any residue from the bottom, then add back in the vegetable mix and ribs. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour 20 minutes. My smallest hob ring is still a bit hot to keep things at a simmer, so I transferred the dish to the oven at about 90c. Uncover after the time is up and cook for a further 40 minutes to thicken up the sauce. Turn the oven to 180c.

Make the dumplings by combining the milk, egg and butter. Sift in the flours (I used spelt because I think walnuts go with a sort of wholemeal vibe, but the original recipe calls for plain) and baking powder. Chop the walnuts and parsley and add with the orange zest and 1 tsp salt, mixing until combined. Shape the mixture into balls – I found I needed to add a bit more flour – and add to the casserole. If you make the dumplings before the 40 minutes cooking time has elapsed, just put them on a floured tray in the fridge.

Bake the casserole (with dumplings) for a further 30 minutes, or until the dumplings are golden and the ribs are tender. The meat should be almost soft enough to cut with a spoon.

From Jane Lawson’s ‘Snowflakes and Schnapps’

…and whiskers on kittens…

I recently bought myself a new bike, a beautiful sky blue Pashley Poppy. Every time I look at her I sing ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ in my head. Poppy fills the most ordinary bike ride to the pub with delight; there’s something uplifting about the spring-like colour and the way you have to sit very upright, like you’re extremely proud of owning her. And this sort of quiet joy, I think, is key to surviving February. Because February is the kind of month where every time you leave the house, you’re disappointed anew by the coating drizzle, seeping into your clothing like the realisation that summer is many long, grey months away. With this sort of challenge to the spirits, it helps to make the ordinary more celebratory. And why not start with breakfast?

Since entering this business that is catering, Tom and I rarely get to have breakfast together anymore (except for the odd hasty Sunday bowl of porridge). But then I’m often stumbling around, crease-faced and dressing-gown-swathed, long after most people have departed for the office, so don’t feel too sorry for me.  I’m also a little slow in the mornings, which is perhaps why it took me so many unthrilling breakfasts of muesli or toast and marmalade which, nice as they were, passed unremarkably, until one day a couple of weeks ago some synapses connected in my pre-caffeinated brain and said, loudly, ‘pancakes!’ (I’m not a neurological expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s how my brain works). So I sprang into action, relatively speaking – one of the glorious things about pancakes is that even in a poorly stocked household you’ll have all the ingredients already – and I haven’t looked back. Cooking pancakes for yourself alone is, for me, just on the right side of self-indulgent – it’s not really necessary, but it feels in some way fortifying. It’s sufficiently more effort than pressing down the toaster button that you feel like you’re doing something nice for yourself, but it’s not so difficult that it can’t be managed while the coffee brews.

I have my favourite pancakes, which are an undeniably heavy (though I prefer to think of it as sustaining) banana and buckwheat combination. These are quite different, sort of wholesome and light. The recipe is one I cut out from Waitrose Food Illustrated, before its much more rubbish incarnation as Waitrose Kitchen, and which, I believe, originated with Miss Sophie Dahl. Apparently her TV programme was infuriating, but I never saw it, so I can enjoy her pancakes with impunity. I had a half tub of ricotta in the fridge which worked perfectly with the halved recipe (and if you feel like making your own ricotta, see my earlier post).

Spelt and ricotta pancakes

Makes 4 pancakes to serve 2, or 1 very hungry person

125g ricotta
2 tbsp milk
1 egg, separated
40g spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp lemon zest, optional (I wasn’t organised enough to have lemons, so I left it out)
1/2 tbsp maple syrup, plus extra to serve
oil or butter, for the pan

Combine the ricotta, milk and egg yolk in a large bowl. Stir in the flour and baking powder.

Whisk the egg white to stiff peaks in a separate bowl, and fold into the first bowl. Add the lemon zest, if using, and maple syrup, and stir in.

Heat a little oil or butter in a frying pan and drop in dollops of batter, about one large tablespoon per pancake. Cook for a couple of minutes per side.

Serve with more maple syrup and whatever suitable fruit you have on hand. Banana is always my first choice.

Any remaining batter is fine kept in the fridge overnight and used the next day – it separates a bit, but will come together again with a quick stir.

I feel that when it’s cold and wintry and uninviting outside, you can seek solace in your kitchen in one of two ways: you can retreat into the traditionally warming stews, pies and puddings, or you can look to balmier climes for inspiration. I don’t mean salads, that would unquestionably be a bad idea, but when I made this tagine it struck me that it was the perfect uplifting food for a grey day: hearty, cooked in one pot (more or less), brightly spiced and warming on two counts, if you include the liberal addition of stingingly hot harissa. Plus, the chance to use one of my tagines (yes, I have more than one) always makes me feel happier.

I used a recipe from the first Moro book, but the basics could be altered at will, using different vegetables, making a vegetarian version with chickpeas or using another type of meaty protein. The important component here is the chermoula, which is what will make you want to keep on eating mouthful after cold-fighting mouthful.

Fish tagine with potatoes, tomatoes and olives

Serves 4

4 white fish fillets (hake is good)
20 small, waxy potatoes e.g. Charlotte
3 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
15 cherry tomatoes, halved / 1 x tin chopped tomatoes
4 green peppers
a handful of black olives, preferably the small, oily type
100ml water
salt and pepper

For the chermoula:
2 garlic cloves
1 level tsp sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground cumin
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp paprika
1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil

Firstly, make the chermoula. The Moro recipe wants you to do this in a pestle and mortar, but mine is tiny, and even if it weren’t I doubt I would have bothered. Sorry. It still tastes pretty darn great if you just chuck all the ingredients in the blender. Anyway, once you’re done rub two-thirds of it into your fish fillets and leave them in the fridge for a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 2 hours.

Meanwhile, grill or roast the peppers until the skin blackens and will peel away easily. Scrape out any seeds and slice them into strips. While you do this you might reflect on how rarely a recipe actually calls for green peppers. And yet you always seem to end up with them.

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in salty water for 10-15 minutes, or until just cooked. Drain and slice in half.

In a medium saucepan heat 2 tbsp olive oil over a medium heat and fry the garlic until light brown. Add the tomatoes and allow to soften for a couple of minutes. Stir in the green peppers and leftover chermoula and check the seasoning. Now you can get out your tagine, if you have one, and spread the potatoes over the bottom. Dollop three quarters of the tomato and pepper mixture over this, then the chermoula-marinated fish, then the rest of the tomato/pepper mix and the olives. Pour over the water and remaining tbsp of olive oil, put the lid on, and cook over a medium-high heat for 10-15 mins, or until the fish is cooked through. If you don’t have a tagine, just use a lidded saucepan or frying pan. Also note that some tagines are a little delicate, so if you’re wary of putting yours over direct heat you could use a heat diffuser mat and cook the dish for longer. Although I gave up doing this because I’m impatient, and so far no harm has come to mine.

From ‘Moro: The Cookbook’, Sam & Sam Clark