Thursday, 10 December 2009

Wham Bam Thank You Jam and the Drunken Monkey

Over the last six months I’ve managed to amass around 20 different types of chutney, pickle and jam. They currently inhabit the entire top shelf of my fridge and I swear they are multiplying. I like to imagine them having a very vinegary and sugary party, every time I shut the door, though I doubt they have enough room to do any dancing.

I’ve managed to stop myself from buying anymore preserves now, but I just couldn’t help making some when I discovered a couple of very simple recipes. I assumed that jam making would be terribly tricky, but it turns out that the only thing you need lots of is patience. The final stage when it’s almost at setting point seems to last for an age, but it’s well worth the wait to stand back and see lots of neat little jam jars, filled with deliciousness.

The first batch, forever more called ‘Wham Bam, Thank You Jam’, is a tweaked version of a recipe from Delicious. It has a gorgeous chilli, lemongrass and ginger tang. I doubled the ingredients (if you’re going to the trouble of making jam, why on earth would you only want 3 jars at the end of it?), I didn’t bother deseeding the chillies (I like ridiculously hot food, as you may have guessed from my previous post, Hot Pot), and I used an extra couple of lemon grass sticks. It’s vital to use bloody good tomatoes for this recipe. They need plenty of flavour. If you’re uncertain, give them a sniff in the shop and if they don’t make you feel like you’re six years old again, helping your Granddad select the best fruit from the greenhouse, don’t bother.

The second batch, now known as ‘The Drunken Monkey’, mainly consists of banana, pineapple and dark rum. It came from The World Wide Gourmet. Again, I doubled the ingredients though and also added a little pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to make it extra warming. I’d recommend putting it on a hot pancake with some west country clotted cream.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A Good Pint of Cider and Some Chicken Pie

Over the last few months I have found myself longing for Dorset. Having spent my formative years in a little town called Sherborne, surrounded by fields and forests, the city where I live now can seem practically barren at times. Brighton does of course have its share of open spaces, not forgetting the beach itself, but it’s just not the same. Earlier this year, I got all misty-eyed while watching Morris: A Life with Bells On, my heart aching for countryside and, more importantly, a good pint of cider.

There’s something utterly transporting about the taste of that fruity brew. The first sip always pulls me back to autumn mornings, looking over the River Purley, the mist curling down from the road as I walked our dog. And fresh lardy cake from Oxford’s Bakery… God, the taste of that would drive my brother crazy. He would eat an entire one to himself, every Saturday morning; I have no idea how he’s turned out so athletic. Oh, and cheese and apple. I have vivid memories of my Dad slicing an apple with his enormous hands (hot in any weather) and devouring it with slabs of local cheddar. And my Mum’s chicken pie. I haven’t had that in years, but I still recall the flakiness of the puff pastry as it mingled with the simple, thick sauce and the incredibly tender meat. I am drooling at the thought.

Cheers Mum:
4 free-range chicken breasts (don’t insult the dish with unhappy meat)
A couple of handfuls of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ red onion, roughly chopped
½ pint chicken stock (if you can make your own, here’s a great recipe)
Enough pastry to cover a 30cm pie dish (a deep one)
A sprig of fresh rosemary
A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Corn flour for thickening
A little olive oil
1 egg yolk

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place a pie bird in the pie dish (this isn’t vital, but does prevent it from sagging or bubbling over the side). Cut the meat into bite size chunks, then coat in the corn flour. Brown the chicken quickly in a hot pan with the olive oil, then remove and place in the bottom of the pie dish. Using the same pan, brown the onion, then add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for a further five minutes. Scoop the mixture into the pie dish over the chicken and pour on the stock. Add seasoning and herbs and stir. Brush a little of the egg yolk onto the pie dish lip and cover the whole thing with the pastry, cutting away any excess and making a hole for the pie bird. Put a little more yolk over the pastry to ensure a lovely colour. Pop it in the oven for approximately 30 minutes. Remove and devour.

Photo courtesy of Dan.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Hot Pot

On a recent trip to Singapore, I was fortunate enough to experience one of the hottest and tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten. Far different from the Lancashire dish of the same name, this spicy treat made me smile for days (although I was probably high on chilli). Known to some as Hot Pot and others as Chinese Fondue or Steamboat, this delicious and sociable (yes, sociable) dinner is something to behold.

We stumbled upon Chuan Jiang Hao Zi Restaurant in the China Town district of Singapore, jet lagged and suffering from the sudden shock of humidity. We’d just left a pretty typical British Summer: rain, ninja clouds, and approximately two days of sunshine in which everyone eagerly turns into a lobster. So what better way to get utterly sweltering than sit in front of a boiling cauldron of deliciousness. Uncertain of the correct protocol for eating a Hot Pot, we attempted to make sense of the pictures around the restaurant. Alas, they were not much help, but luckily the proprietors seemed well used to confused tourists and graciously smiled at any broaches of tradition we may have committed.

A metal pot was brought to the table in front of us and lowered into a pit at the centre. Underneath a flame was lit and the liquid within began to heat. There were two types of liquid in the pot: a chicken broth and a chilli broth, intended to cook the raw ingredients which we then chose. Our selection consisted of very thinly sliced chicken, beef and pork, enormous king prawns, kelp, dumplings, broccoli, bean sprouts and various other treats. We lowered these into the Hot Pot and waited for them to cook through, scooping them up eagerly with the ladles provided. The finished result was beyond lovely. Burningly hot, thoroughly moreish and provided us with lots of entertainment as well as nourishment. My dining partner was perspiring so much from the humidity and the chilli that the burning spread from his lips over the rest of his face, something which apparently didn’t detract from the experience, but rather proved to him that it was the best thing he’d ever eaten.

Since returning to Brighton I’ve discovered a little Szechuan restaurant near the station which does Hot Pots and I can’t wait to try it again, though I may attempt a very straight forward recipe from the BBC Food website first. Either way, I know I’ll end up deliriously happy.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Hummingbird Bakery

For a long time I have been utterly convinced that baking was not for me. Many a cake has not risen, burnt, turned into liquid sugar, exploded and travelled backwards in time… well not quite, but nearly (one unfortunate sponge travelled all the way to the neighbour’s garden at high velocity). So imagine my joy at discovering that it was not my fault after all, but really down to pathetic ovens and decrepit scales. Pah! I hear you say. A good workman never blames his tools etc. Well, this workman is actually a worklady and you haven’t tasted my lemon cupcakes, so zip it.

And it’s all thanks to a lovely little place in London called The Hummingbird Bakery. The talented people there have published a book which details their amazing cakes and has instilled in me the joy of baking. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of their shops, I am terribly, terribly envious.

Since reading their recipes I’ve been inspired and if it weren’t for the waistline, I’d be baking every weekend. Alas, I can’t afford a new wardrobe in a larger size so I’ll have to stick to the occasional pecan pie (served warm with vanilla ice cream). I like to add a touch of cinnamon to the proceedings, especially at this time of year, but I’m not sure if that’s bad etiquette when it comes to the real American version. I'll have to consult one of my friends from across the pond - here's hoping I avoid a wide-eyed stare and a pumpkin pie in the face.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Oooh first post. MEGA.
Watch this space for musings on all things delicious.