Friday, 25 January 2013

Seville Orange Marmalade

Homemade bread and homemade marmalade....

It's that time again - Marmalade Month! The sour Seville oranges have a short season and this is it  - Top Tip - make sure you make enough to last all year. Your friends and family will love you and you will enjoy it all year round....

I'm currently working my way through a jar that my Son In Law Phil has made - and it's delicious. It's most certainly worth the little bit of effort that is involved, but it is quite a simple recipe....

Firstly, set aside a few'll need it to do it properly, but you'll have Marmalade for a year, so it's worth it. By the way, for 2 1/2 hours or so the oranges will be cooking gently, bubbling away on their own without much attention required from you so it isn't as onerous as it sounds anyway.

Secondly it's decision time: Marmalade with or without a hit of ginger....If anything in the world likes a little touch of ginger warmth it's Marmalade...perhaps you should try both....

So, here are the ingredients:

1 kilo of Seville oranges, scrubbed and with the little green stars taken off.
1 lemon - it's the juice you need
2 kilos of granulated sugar
2 1/2 litres of water


Replace 250 grams of sugar with 250 grams of stem ginger and the sugar syrup....

Now take a large pot or a jam pan and bring the water to the boil with the oranges in, then reduce it to a simmer and cook for two and a half hours or until the oranges can be easily pierced with a blunt knife, they should be wonderfully soft and your kitchen should have a warm, citrus tang to the air making you think of Christmas, breakfast and holidays in the sun all at the same time. It's a fantastic essence....

OK, that done it now gets a little more involved, but it is still straight forward....

First, put a plate or a saucer in the freezer!

I will explain, I promise....

Then, put your washed jars in the oven set at 100 as detailed HERE

Take the whole oranges from the liquor, you should have 1.7 litres or so left. If not top it up or reduce it as required.

Put a marigold glove on your left hand if right handed (Trust me, I have asbestos hands and I need it) split the oranges over a bowl with a blunt knife removing all the insides, but especially the pips and place the skins in another bowl. When all the innards are dealt with, use a sieve to extract ALL the juice into your liquor together with the juice of the lemon and the sliced stem ginger and syrup if using...Put the sugar in and stir until dissolved. Turn up the heat to a boil.

Meanwhile take about half the orange skins and cut them CAREFULLY, (nothing like a fingernail in your marmalade to put you off it for some time...) skin side up, as thinly or thickly as you like it. Add these to the pot as well.

Now you're going to boil the whole lot for between 15 and 30 minutes (depending on your pan, the amount of liquid, the oranges themselves and the heat of your hob) until setting point is reached. But keep your eye on it it can turn very quickly - you're trying to reach a temperature of over 100 degrees to set the jam.


Take out the dish from the freezer and drop some liquid from the pot onto it. Push the liquid with your finger. If it wrinkles, setting point is reached and you can remove the pan from the heat.

You will get some notice; the liquid becomes gloopier, thicker and has a different smell, but keep your eyes on it, it can catch quickly and burn on the bottom of the pan, spoiling the taste. If not reached boil for a few more minutes and test again.

Once setting point is achieved, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool down for 10 - 15 minutes. This is to allow the peel to be evenly distributed throughout the mix. If not allowed to cool it will all float to the top of the jars - aesthetically unpleasing...

Jar it up and seal the jars as detailed previously HERE.

A few notes:
  • You can add all the pith, ensuring all the pips are out, this makes a more 'jammy' marmalade. My view is that it also removes some of the clarity and colour, and the pith that was clinging to the peel was added to the mix anyway - your choice.
  • Check out SETTING POINTS on the Internet if you're unsure - practice makes perfect though...or buy a GOOD BOOK
  • You can also use another method whereby you slice the pith and skin before it's cooked and leave all the peel and pith to soak in the water overnight. You then have to boil the mixture to reduce it all by one third then add the sugar, lemon and boil to setting point, they're both good - I just prefer the whole fruit method.
  • If you have scum on the top of your marmalade after setting point is reached and before you have jarred it, add a 25g lump of butter and stir it in gently, this should get rid of it.
The reason Seville oranges are so good is that they have an acidity, a sourness that works so well with the sugar and the ginger. Of course, Marmalade can be made with any of the citrus fruits and also with onions, but, for me, January and the arrival of Seville oranges is traditionally the time I make marmalade. I hope you'll give it a go too.  

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Grow Your Own - And Use It!

Even in the snow, at night, fresh ingredients are available.

OK, so it's Winter, it's cold and it's impossible to grow vegetables and eat fresh produce this time of has to be bland, un-green and carbohydrate based....?

Well, with just a little effort you can have something fresh and green with your food everyday - honest!

My wife and I have eggs most mornings - either boiled, omelet or scrambled and when we have the latter two we have a scattering of fresh chives grown in the garden each time. There is a short period of about 7 or 8 weeks each winter when the chives have died down and are unavailable, so we have home-grown cress or parsley. Occasionally we'll have porridge (porrich) sweetened with local honey, but that's OK, we have something fresh for lunch or dinner.

A nice bed of chives right outside the back door

I know a small sprinkling of parsley, chives or cress is not a major intake of vegetable goodness but at this time of year that little splash of green is a fillip to the soul, those little leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals and the growing of herbs and small green growing things is often simplicity itself, so here are a few ideas:

Most people have rosemary in their gardens, maybe thyme and sage too, but this summer if you don't have any make sure you plant all three close to your door - and use it fresh. These are the 'woody' herbs that we use and can be pretty much left alone to grow with just a few rules regarding their planting and upkeep - surprisingly, constant foraging can keep these small shrubs strong and healthy, that and a good soil base...

Fennel even in March....

They are mostly Mediterranean plants and like sunshine and well drained soil. I always plant mine on a bed of grit and compost - the more grit the better, they won't do well sitting on claggy, water retaining soil or  clay. Leave them pretty much to themselves but cut the new growth as often as you can. You will also find that the pretty little flowers are excellent colourful and tasty additions to dishes too.

The next thing you can do is to obtain some parsley, chervil and coriander seeds and plant these in pots on a warm, sun facing windowsill, they will do well through the year with a little bit of TLC. I can't seem to do well with chives indoors, but I have a large bed right outside my back door that does so well I haven't really tried. In the summer you can also plant dill, fennel, marjoram and the others mentioned above outside in pots in the sunshine, just keep them watered and occasionally fed with a proprietary plant food and use them as and when you need to. If you use a lot of any particular one then plant more pots...

As for Basil, Greek Basil and oregano, these really need to be planted in full summer or in a warm conservatory or greenhouse and don't water them too much or too often, but fresh basil is a Godsend when the tomatoes ripen, grow some next to your tomato plants to keep away aphids and other pests.

Plant it....
...and a few days later....

We also buy mustard cress seeds and plant them in a pot in the kitchen. As chicken keepers we have eggs all the time and if anything other than chives was meant to go with eggs, it's cress. If you can't recall your primary school days then just get a Chinese take away plastic tray, line in with kitchen paper sprinkle in a carpet of cress seeds and keep the paper moist. In less than a week you'll have greenery. Simple.

Some people buy pots of herbs from their local supermarket and are often upset when they don't last very long. You should remember that these are force grown at speed and in the heat of a glasshouse;when you get them home they are often shocked into decline, save your money, save your time, grow your own and use it!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sterilisation of Jars

I'm often asked how jams, jellies and chutneys are able to be preserved for so long - easily up to two years - and how jars are sterilised - they aren't called preserves for nothing....

Anyway, the easiest way lies along the path of owning a dishwasher, grasshopper. (My word, I am old!) Just put the jars and the lids into the dishwasher on a hot cycle and when they are dry and still hot add the still hot jelly, jam or chutney to the jars.

If, however, like me you eschew the ownership of such a modern contraption in the best Luddite manner whilst effecting to enjoy the quiet solitude of hand washing cutlery and dishes (ALWAYS wash the wine glasses first....) then another method is required.

Wash the jars and lids in said hand washing manner in hot, clean water an then place them on a tray in a 100 degree oven until you need them to be filled. Temperatures over 85 degrees or so will kill all germs and bacteria, so 100 degrees is fine..

These can be sterilised as normal jars

A couple of extra points:

If using vinegar in your recipe you will need vinegar proof lids, i.e. ones which will not corrode.

When the jars are filled right to the brim and the lids tightly secured, turn the jars over briefly and then set upright again. This ensures a good seal.

If you fill all jars to the brim then wax covers and plastic cellophane wrappers are not required. However, if you have used vinegar then you can add them as a precaution - I don't bother. 

Bottles with alcohol are sterilised as above - it's the alcohol that acts as a preservative - not that it lasts long around here!

A bit of everything here....
I will be putting up a few jam, jelly and chutney recipes this year, so have a go.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Bucket Lists

Samira in "chewy" mode...

A recent phrase in our vocabulary, bucket lists are things to do before you die, often unusual, difficult and sometimes even virtually impossible tasks, trips or situations in which one wishes to find oneself. I have discerned that the richer one is then the more bizarre, difficult and expensive these listed items become.

Whilst I don't consider that I have ever had a "bucket list" per se, certainly not a physical, written list; I have, like most of us, had a few things in my head that I would "like" to do given the opportunity, the time or the money. They are not necessarily tasks I want to complete before I die either - I try not to think too much about death - no, these are just things I would like to do....but naturally I  need to be alive to attempt them...I mean...obviously.  

I have also been fortunate in that my wishes are simple, easily accomplished and cheap; showing, almost by default, that I am poor. Yet they're also not really a list of things I want to do, more a perception that doing them might be kind of cool, fun, exhilarating or even life changing.

A few years ago I mentioned to my wife that one such dream or ambition was to stroke a Tiger - whilst it was tranquilised, obviously -  but the immense power of these animals, the shear size and the weight of their presence, not just their physical weight, has always filled me with awe. I have yet to achieve that ambition and would still like to do so, but my wife managed to get us access to a Lion cub at the very wonderful Port Lympne park near Folkestone a few years ago. The Lioness, Samira, had been injured by her mother and was being reared by hand, following her keeper around like a love sick puppy. Frankie, my son Ben and I all managed to play with her and stroke her in the Safari Park shop on a cold, rainy day.

Her fur was soft, downy and not at all stiff and spiky as we expected and she growled at us in a friendly, almost cartoon caricature manner - the very essence of what a young lion cub should sound like as she chewed our shoes, coats and hands - an absolutely wonderful experience that none of us have ever forgotten.

On a recent trip to Madeira this month I managed to achieve another of those "bucket list" items - I was within a few feet of a pod of Common Dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean and yet again it was an event I shall never forget, a timeless 30 minutes or so in which seemed distilled all the intensity of sensations and feelings - a perplexing mix of emotions when one does not know whether to laugh or cry - so I did a little of both, quietly to myself, but I think Frankie was aware of the reactions this encounter engendered. A truly magical experience. I was within 6 or 7 feet of the animals as they swam along with the catamaran, adeptly avoiding collision with one another as they put on a show for us. Having tried to take some photographs, I became aware that in my attempt to get a good shot I was forgetting to actually "watch" them. I put the camera away. I did manage to salvage a fantastic short piece of footage though - a memory captured and certainly one to share.

As to what else is on, or has been on my bucket list - well, now is not the time to divulge that - I'm still smiling as I remember the 6 feet long athletes of the ocean on a warm, sunny day about a mile off the coast of Madeira in January.....I'll not forget it, ever!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Allspice (Pimenta doica) With Coconut and chili chicken

All Spice Berries

There are some dishes in which the ingredients seem to blend together so well that the meal almost cooks itself. Coconut and chicken are two such constituents and by adding the other herbs, spices and the tomatoes the dish is virtually prepared. It's tasty, and tangy and can be as hot (or not) as you would like it to be.

The roots of this dish are basically Caribbean, but as usual it has a Mikey easy twist or two. The main ingredient is one that is not used all that much in the UK but is a favourite of mine. It is a dried pepper seed as can be seen from its Latin name and is sometimes called Jamaican Berry, but has a strong flavour of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg as well as the  innate peppercorn taste. This is how it got its name Allspice and should not be confused with MIXED spice which is used mainly for sweet cooking.

Buy some Allspice and try it in some dishes - I guarantee you will notice the subtle undertones that it imparts and the depth of flavour that can be detected..


Chicken, diced and dipped in seasoned flour
Tin of coconut milk
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Frozen peas
All spice berries, about a dozen
teaspoon of cumin powder
Bay leaves
Chopped thyme
Fresh chili finely chopped - to taste
Fresh garlic finely chopped - as much as you like - I usually use 4 cloves
Onion finely chopped

As usual, slowly cook the onions until they are soft and sweet. In some countries onions are cooked slowly for hours, so there is never any hurry with cooking them - take your time but don't burn them. After 10 minutes or so add the chopped garlic and chili and stir in and cook gently. The garlic is always added later to ensure that it doesn't burn.

Next the diced and floured chicken can be fried off in the pan until it has a nice light brown crust. It is coated in flour to add this slight crunch but also the flour helps to thicken the sauce.

Once the chicken is a light brown pour in the contents of a tin of coconut milk and stir in with the tin of chopped tomatoes (which I blitz into a puree), the cumin, allspice, chopped thyme and bay leaves. Season to taste.

I then put this in a medium oven for half an hour or so before giving it a good stir and adding the frozen peas. Ten to 15 minutes later it's ready to serve with some rice and or some lovely flatbreads.