Sunday, June 29, 2008

Getting it Together

Quick Mint Jelly:
half a pint (300ml) white vinegar
1 lb (500g) sugar
2 oz (50g) fresh mint
8 fl oz (227ml) bottle of commercial pectin
2 - 3 drops green colouring
Put the vinegar and sugar into a pan with half the mint sprigs, and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Strain through a sieve (discarding the mint), and return the liquid to the pan and bring to the boil. Boil for one minute, then stir in the pectin. Bring back to the boil, and boil for a further 2 minutes.
Chop the remaining mint leaves and stir into the boiling syrup along with the food colouring. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Stir to distribute the mint then pot in small sterilised jars and cover in the usual way.

Mint Pickle:
half a pint (300ml) white vinegar
8 oz (250g) sugar
2 level tsp mustard powder
2 level tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 level tsp peppercorns
1.5 lbs (750g) cooking apples, peeled and sliced
8 oz (250g) onions, peeled and sliced
1 oz (25g) mint leaves, chopped
Put the vinegar into a pan and add the sugar, mustard, salt and spices. Simmer very gently for half and hour then strain. Return the liquid to the pan and add the apples and onions. Continue simmering for a further 10 minutes then remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool. Stir in the mint leaves.
When quite cold, using a slotted spoon (or again the mixture can be sieved) pack the apples and onions into sterilised jars the cover with the spiced vinegar and seal immediately with airtight vinegar-proof lids.
Store in a cool dark place for one month before using.

Carrot Jam: makes about 2 lb (1kg)
2 lb (1kg) large carrots, trimmed and peeled
grated zest and juice of 3 lemons (save the pips)
2 pints (1.2 ltrs) water
2 lb (1kg) sugar
1 oz (25g) blanched almonds*
1 tblsp brandy
Slice the carrots thinly. Put the lemon pith into a muslin bag with the pips**. Into the preserving pan put the carrots, lemon zest and juice, and the bag of lemon pith/pips. Add the water and slowly bring to the boil. then simmer for 1 hour or until the carrots are very tender.
Remove the muslin bag, drain the carrots and sieve or liquidise/process to a puree. Return this pulp to the pan and add the sugar. Heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then raise the heat and boil rapidly for about 10 minutes or when setting point has been reached. Remove from heat and spoon off any scum that has risen to the top. Split the almonds and stir into the jam with the brandy. Pot into sterilised jars and cover with airtight lids.
*flaked almonds could be used instead. Alternatively finely chopped preserved ginger could replace the almonds.
** When using lemons at any time, it is worth collecting the pips and storing them in a little pot in the freezer. The pips help the preserve to set. Instead of a muslin bag, I use one of those little free (but unused) bags that come with laundry tablets, just check the pips won't fall through the holes. These little bags are also good for holding bunches of mixed fresh herbs when wishing to flavour a casserole - pull the drawstring tight at the top of the bag, tie on a little more string long enough to be tied round the pan handle (if it hangs loose it might catch fire), then the bag can be easily removed.

Still gathering together store cupboard ingredients, this next recipe uses canned cannellini beans, also canned tomatoes. With the other ingredients it makes a splended 'curried beans', great on toast or eaten with any type of flatbread. Make a Mexican version by adding more chilli powder to the beans instead of the curry spices and serve it with flatbread, and while you are at it, used red beans instead of the cannellini. By the same token, cut a corner or three by using haricot, pinto or even bog-standard baked beans canned in tomato sauce, and ise curry paste instead of the spices. The beans themselves could be home-baked and taken from the freezer. Plenty of scope within this dish to experiment, and if all else fails, they are great just eaten on toast.
Baked Bombay Beans: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp turmeric
half tsp chilli powder
400g can chopped tomatoes
4 fl.oz (125ml) water
2 x 210g cans cannellini beans
warm naan, chapati, or other flatbread
Put the butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onions and cook for about 6 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic and spices and fry for a further minute, then add the tomatoes and water. Bring to the simmer then cook for 5 - 10 minutes until beginning to thicken.
Stir in the beans, cover and continue simmering for 20 minutes, remove cover and if necessary, raise heat slightly to reduce the liquid. The mixture needs to be thick. Serve with the warm bread (or - if you prefer - on toast).

Adding flavour to a dish can lift it far beyond the level of boring, and it doesn't need to cost much. Here are some easy and cheap suggestions:
Add flavour to lettuce by tossing it first in a little salad dressing, then sprinkle over a handful of grated cheese, and toss again, the cheese will cling to each lettuce leaf and will make it taste far better. A sprinkle of sugar also enhances the flavour of both lettuce and tomatoes.
Sprinkle a little Worcestershire sauce over toasted cheese, this also lifts the flavour.
Also add a good dash of W.sauce to a bolognaise meat sauce.
Dark soy sauce added to a beef casserole will give a lot more depth of flavour.
Add one or two squares of chocolate to a beef casserole or a chilli con carne.
Lemon zest and/or lemon juice added to couscous makes it more appealing, also good added to rice.
When making any chocolate cake or dessert, a grating of orange zest will much improve it.

Wines and spirits, when costed by the spoonful, work out quite inexpensive (and free if you ask for a bottle as a birthday or Christmas gift).
Spoon a little sherry over the cake at the bottom of a trifle.
Add a little sherry to the pan juices or mushrooms when making a strogonoff.
Beat a little liqueur into cream and it will thicken faster, also add a little (3 tsp.max) when making home-made ice cream and it will prevent it going rock hard.
Adding a little wine or liqueur to the water when making a jelly will turn it into an Adult Special.
Make up a strawberry jelly with Babycham and the bubbles will set in the jelly. Good dish to make during Wimbledon fortnight.