Tag Archives: plums

Christmas cheer (in November)

13 Nov

I’ve started.

I didn’t mean to.  I prefer to wait till 20 December for my Christmas preparations, as is traditional in my family.  But there are some things that need time to reach perfection.  And anyway, I enjoy pottering about in the kitchen.

So yesterday I bought some fresh cranberries and a bottle of vodka.  Last time I made cranberry vodka it was far too sweet, but was a perfect late night (after too much wine) shot.  So I’m trying it again.  And plum brandy (if only because I have brandy in the cupboard and our plum harvest in the freezer).

The cranberry vanilla vodka starts with layers of sugary syrup, and lighter alcohol

Cranberry Vanilla Vodka

250g cranberries

1/2 vanilla pod

160g caster sugar

1l vodka

You’ll need a kilner jar, larger than a 1l one.  I think mine is probably 1.5l, but not entirely sure.  Hey, it won’t really matter if your jar is too small, you just won’t be able to fit all the vodka in (so use slightly less fruit and sugar too).

  1. Here’s the slightly laborious bit, although I find it meditatively soothing.  Prick each of the cranberries with a fork, and pop them in the jar.
  2. After you’ve added a cranberry layer, spoon in some of the sugar, then layer with more pricked cranberries and more sugar.  Keep going till you’ve put in all the cranberries and sugar. And I know the pricking seems ridiculous, but really, if you don’t do it the flavour won’t leach out into the vodka so much, and you’ll end up with a disappointing drink, having saved yourself a mere 15 minutes sitting down listening to the radio.
  3. Now using a sharp knife split the vanilla pod lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds into the jar.  Throw the empty pods in too, they still have lots of seeds and flavour left in there.
  4. Pour the vodka in on top of the fruit layers, seal the lid and give it a shoogle.
  5. Leave somewhere out of the way, but easy to hand – so it’s not in your way, but you can give it a wee shoogle every day for the next 3 weeks.
  6. Taste it.  If you’d like it sweeter, then make up some basic sugar syrup, with caster sugar and water, and add it to the jar.  If you like it as is, then bottle it up and put a pretty label on it.
  7. Drink.

Plum brandy

Follow the basic method for Cranberry Vanilla Vodka.  I only had a 1l jar, so I layered plums and soft brown sugar till the jar was about half full.  Then I added a star anise and about 1″ cinnamon stick, followed by some brandy.  We’ll see how it turns out… I suspect I’ll wish I’d put more star anise in it.

 

Jars of alcoholic tastiness

 

Next weekend I will probably turn my hand to a Stollen.  I’ve never made one before, but much prefer stollen to heavy fruitcake.  Mind you, I do have a recipe for a Christmas Cake which lasts like a normal cake, but is made of nice light fruit, like apricots instead of all that horrid stuff you usually find in a fruitcake.   

Making room in the freezer

6 Mar

My boyfriend’s daughters are coming for supper on Friday.  They are bringing their babies with them, aged nearly two and nearly one.  I get on well with them, which is good, and they like my home cooking which is also good.

I usually get back here from work at about 7.30pm, which to me is too late to start cooking anything elaborate, or some evenings anything at all.  G is good at judging this moment, and last Friday suggested we went down to our local hotel/bistro for a bite to eat.  We both had fish and chips (reliably tasty) followed by a platter of cheese and biscuits (not worth it) and washed down with a perfectly acceptable sauvignon blanc.  A taxi took us home and we walked down through the woods, and along by the river to pick up the car the next morning – a lovely way to start the day (followed by a trip to the farmers market, the royal mail depot and the post office).

But back to next Friday.  The daughters.  I decided it would be easiest to make a big stew and put it in the freezer – G can take it out on Thursday night and leave it in the fridge, and then re-heat it on Friday before picking me up from the station.

Except that really there wasn’t room for even a scoop of ice cream in the freezer. So, out came the bags of frozen damsons picked from the tree last autumn. And they are now bubbling away on the stove, filling the house with that deliciously autumnal plummy aroma.  I made plumbrillo for the first time in the autumn, and loved it.  In fact I loved it so much I gave it all away.  So now I’m making some to keep – some will stay in the valley, the rest will go back to the city, and will jazz up my lunches, no doubt accompanied by cheese from Mellis the Cheesemonger.  Yum.

So, the brown stew.  The name isn’t particularly appetising is it?  But it’s what G calls it, rolling the R in brrrrrown to render the word almost unrecognisable.

I started off at our local butchers and bought 1.5kg of shoulder steak.

Put about a cupful of plain flour into a large bowl, and season with lots of pepper and some salt.  And any herbs you might like.

Cut any excess fat or gristly bits off the steak and cut into bitesize pieces.  Bitesize can really be whatever you like, but I like them big enough to bite, but small enough that a piece can go in your mouth whole. Remember though that they will shrink a bit on cooking.

Throw the pieces of meat into the bowl of flour, and mix around every so often to make sure all the pieces are individually coated.

Fry the meat, a little at a time, in a butter/oil mix in a large pan.  Each batch should only just cover the base of the pan, anymore and it won’t fry properly. Fry until brown on one side and then flip them all over individually. Yes, this is time-consuming, but worth it.  When each batch is cooked (it doesn’t need to be cooked through, just nicely brown on each side) put them in a bowl while you get on with the next lot.

The pan you use should be a big casserole that can hold the whole stew and go in the oven quite happily.

When you’ve done all the meat add a couple of chopped onions to the pan, a wee bit more butter/oil if you need it and a teaspoonful or so of sugar.  Gently fry the onions over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, till they’re nicely caramelised.  While they are frying prepare some other things to put in the stew: chop up some carrot and turnip; finely chop a clove or two of garlic; cut up some mushrooms or peppers if you want, but keep them in nice big chunks or they will disappear in the stew. If you like it spicy, feel free to chop a chilli or two.

Once the onions are caramelised add the garlic, followed quickly by the other veg. Saute for a wee minute or two.  Or five.

Add a couple of tablespoons of worcestershire sauce and the same of tomato puree.  Throw in any herbs or spices you want – I like to throw in a bit of spicy dry harissa I have in a jar and always a bay leaf or two. I think I bought the harissa online a year or so ago, and it packs a great punch, and a wonderful heat at the end of each mouthful of stew.

But I digress.

You now need to chuck the meat back in, and add enough beef stock to just cover the whole stew and give the whole thing a good stir.  Bring back to a slow simmer, and put in the oven for at least a couple of hours simmering away.

And that’s it.

If possible, make it the day before so the flavours can meld and develop. Give it a taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Eat with mashed potatoes, and savoy cabbage.

2010 delights

31 Dec

It’s Hogmanay, and no doubt later on I’ll be making something delish to toast the old year out and the new year in.  But as yet I’m not decided what I’ll cook up.  Something featuring meat from our awesome butcher I imagine.

But for the moment, it seems right to include some of the triumphs of 2010, so they’re not lost forever.

First up, Plumbrillo. We have a couple of damson trees on the edge of our garden.  Well, slightly down our lane and next to the farmer’s field (which now has sheep in it again, which is a sign that there’ll be lambs again before we know it).

So, this year there was a bumper crop of damsons. And being only a part-time country girl, I needed to find things to do with damsons quickly, before I hot-footed it back to the city for the working week. Some inevitably went into a jar with brandy, some made apple and plum jam. Some made the liquor for plum jelly, but was abandoned in the fridge for too long before it was used to make jelly, so had to be chucked.

But the absolute favourite plummy condiment was Plumbrillo, a membrillo like concoction to have with cheese.  It’s easy to make, and I’m not sure I ever want to live without a jar of this stuff in my cupboard – it also makes perfect Christmas gifts, with or without a chunk of cheese.

The recipe is originally from BBC Good Food magazine, October 2008.  The magazine was a present from Aunt Joyce, in a bundle of cooking and gardening mags she had finished.  I must ask if she ever made the Plumbrillo.

Plumbrillo

Makes about 7 x 100ml pots.

2kg / 4lb 8oz black or red plums (or damsons)

1kg bag jam sugar (with added pectin)

  1. Stone and quarter the plums (if you can, I found it really tiresome to do this, so ended up leaving half of them with stones in). Put into a preserving pan and add 500ml cold water.  Bring to boil.
  2. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes until completely cooked down, pulpy and dark, dark reddish plummy purple.
  3. Sieve the fruit and juice through a nylon sieve back into the pan – make sure you get every bit of the pulp out of the mix that you can, this is what makes the plumbrillo.
  4. Stir in the sugar, then stir over a low heat until dissolved.  Now turn up the heat and bubble for about 25 mins or until you have a thick, dark and fruity puree. Keep stirring so that the bottom doesn’t catch. It’s ready when the spoon leaves a trail along the bottom of the pan for a split second before the paste floods back into the gap.
  5. Pot the mix into small jars (use a funnel so you make minimal mess), seal, then leave to set.

Will keep for up to 6 months. My guess is that it might keep a year, otherwise what will I do without it during those summer picnicking months?

I’ll put up my Beetroot and Goats Cheese Tart later.  And perhaps even my Chicken Lasagne.  But for now, it’s back to the home furnishings – curtains and cushion covers to make before the year is out.

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