Monthly Archives: December 2010

Cranberry sauce

Cranberries, orange zest and juice and sugar, all you need to make a delicious cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce isn’t something that is served in Italian households. In fact any sauces, save for those you put on pasta, are rather alien to us. Growing up, we were made to be highly suspicious of sauces, especially opaque ones. “Whatta area dey trying to cover upaa?” my mother would say with, probably, hands on hips. Subsequently, I didn’t try Indian food til I was very grown up and my best friend’s husband, Mark (half Indian) introduced me to it. Accompaniment sauces, such as ketchup, mayonnaise, chutney etc are never on the table, either, in the Italian households I visit. Although in recent years, younger relatives have started using them.

I’ve had this recipe for cranberry sauce for ages. Torn out of a long ago published magazine. I have no idea what attracted me to it, given that cranberry sauce, have I mentioned, didn’t feature on my radar. It may well have been on the same page as a recipe for chocolate biscuits or something. Who knows. What I do know is that when I got me an English husband (almost) and I started moving away from always having Christmases at my parents’ house (sob!), I also started making cranberry sauce.

And this one is fantastic. And so easy.

The beauty is that you use the same amount of sugar as you have cranberries. I’d say from about 250-500g of cranberries, one orange zest/juice is fine. If you start to go above those quantities then you might want to use more orange zest/juice. The packets of cranberries that Waitrose sell come in about 325g, so I use those, and of course 325g of sugar. This makes more than enough for about six people. I’d say 500g cranberries/sugar would make enough for about ten. Obviously it depends on how much you put on your plate. Anyway it’s nice to make extra and have some left over to use for cold cuts over the next few days and weeks – it keeps for months.

So. You take:

The same amount of cranberries as you have sugar, so say 250g cranberries, 250g caster sugar
Grated zest and juice of one orange.

Preheat oven to 170C/gas 3. It’s hard to say how big your dish should be, but about 1 litre for 500g of cranberries?

Put the cranberries in the baking dish, scatter over the sugar, zest and juice. Stir around gently so that the berries are coated. That’s it. Now cover with foil (although I have cooked without foil and it’s been fine!) and cook for 35-40 mins until the berries are tender and bubbling. (What I do is set the timer for 20 mins and then give the berries a gentle stir and check how they’re doing.)

Cool and store in a jar in the fridge. Keeps for weeks if not months.

Here it is finished in the jam jar, ready to go into the fridge.

A good panforte for Christmas

A slice of panforte ready to be eaten, heavy with nuts and dusted with icing sugar

I’m no stranger to panforte (which means “strong bread”). We had it in the house, at Christmas, when we were children. Unlike almost every other food stuff in our house (save for panettone), it was always shop bought, and awful. Dense and way too clove-y with dusty tasting nuts, it was like something someone had made from what was left in the cupboard after all the good Christmas things had been produced.

When Zia Nigella brought out her Nigella’s Christmas, two years ago, it was, weirdly, the recipe for panforte which intrigued me. I say weirdly because it’s a mystery why I would want to try to make it after my experiences.

But I did.

Well, it was a revelation. It is easy to make, although the ingredient list is not short (or cheap, what with the price of nuts these days). It is delicious, but not in that “I must eat more and more and more until I’m sick” way. A thin slice with a glass of something small, and pert, is perfect. It keeps – so it can be made before Christmas (I’m not going to say “ahead of” since I HATE THAT PHRASE. What happened to ‘before’? It is being outsted). And a thick wedge, wrapped in cellophane would make for a really original little present for a host.

Zia Nigella’s recipe is perfect, and in my opinion, cannot be bettered. Actually that’s not entirely true. But the only change I make is that I make my own candied peel , which isn’t hard, a few days before the panforte. I think it really makes it.

Here it is:

125g almonds with skins on
100g blanched almonds
125g whole hazelnuts (with skins on is fine)
75g soft figs, scissored into 2cm x 1cm pieces
200g candied peel , scissored as above.
half a teaspoon of ground cloves
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
A good grating of fresh nutmeg
50g plain flour
a pinch of white pepper
1 x 15ml tablespoon of cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
150g honey (runny or solid is fine as it all melts down)
30g butter

icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 170C/gas mark 3. Line the bottom and sides of a 20cm cake tin. I use a cake liner cos I’m extremely lazy.

Take a heat proof bowl. It doesn’t need to be heat proof in the sense you’re going to have to cook with it, you don’t, but you will be pouring hot stuff into it in a minute, so don’t use something that’s, you know, papier mache or something.

In this bowl, mix together the nuts, dried fruits, candied peel. Into this add the cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, white pepper and cocoa powder.

Put the sugar, honey and butter into a saucepan and gently melt. When done, take off the heat and pour over the dry ingredients. Now mix together. “Stir slowly and patiently” says Nigella and I agree. Think about what Christmas really means (presents and someone, undoubtedly, being ill).

Everything needs to be well coated. Tip the lot into the tin and try to press down as much as you can so you get a flattish surface. You WON’T get a level surface, so don’t panic, but do your best. Anyway when the panforte is out of the oven, and still warm (and has been out for a bit, don’t do it when it first comes out), you can press it down some more. I do this when it comes out of the oven with the end of my rolling pin (which is flat).

Bake for 40 mins. It’s ‘done’ when it’s bubbling. Do not panic when you take it out if it looks all soft. You shouldn’t anyway, be touching it (leave it ALONE). Don’t be tempted to cut a slice and think ‘it’s all soft still’. As it cools it will harden.

This is the panforte just before it went into the oven

When completely cold, lift out of tin and dust prettily with icing sugar. What you’ll have is a lovely chewy, nutty thing that tastes wonderfully of Christmas.

Candied peel to go into a panforte

Satsuma peel, just out of the sugar syrup at the very beginning of the drying process

I’m going to be making panforte very soon. One of the absolute keys to its success is that you make your own candied peel to go in it.

It’s not as hard as it sounds and if you wanted to make extra for bagging into presents, just double the quantities. You need to make it about two days in advance so a good idea to make this now if you want to try panforte. I got this recipe from the Waitrose magazine a few years ago, but I cut it down to make just enough (ish) for my panforte.

You need:

The peel from two oranges cut up into strips. Or one orange and one lemon.

You can, in theory (and I have done this perfectly successfully) just use the peel from some satsumas that you’ve eaten. In other words, you don’t really need to sacrifice two perfectly good oranges. Especially given that you’ll be chopping the peel up, not presenting it.

250g granulated sugar

some caster sugar for afterwards.

If you’re using the quantities above, i.e. not very much, use a small saucepan. Put the orange peel/satsuma peel in the saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and simmer hard for 15 minutes. Drain, cover with fresh cold water and do the same, this time cooking it for another 11-20 mins. You want the peel to be tender, but not mushy so watch it if you’re using thin peel from satsumas. Thick peel from oranges may take longer.

Whilst that’s happening, put the sugar in a saucepan with 125ml of cold water. Slowly bring to the boil so the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.

Drain the tender peel and put it in the sugar syrup. Put the pan back on the heat and simmer for about an hour – uncovered – until there is very little syrup left. Leave it longer if need be.

Be careful as sugar syrup is very hot so whilst you can leave it unattended you do need to make sure you haven’t got any monkey children that can reach this.

When done, lift out using tongs and place onto baking parchment lined baking trays. Leave it somewhere to dry out for two days. I put it in a (switched off) warming drawer. When it’s dried out, put the caster sugar in a small plastic bag (how much you use is up to you, you know like a handful) and throw the peel in, shake it around and you have candied peel! I then leave it back on the tray to set for a few hours before using it.

Bean Bags

Bean bag in book corner. Nice.

I have spent a ridiculous amount of my life looking for decent bean bags for my children (or anyone). I mean, how hard can it be to make a bean bag that is covered in a fabric that’s

a) washable
b) stylish?
The colours offered are either sickly pastels, stripey, spotty, or the fabric is not washable. This is utterly pointless.
Everyone has let me down in this department. Letterbox, the GLTC, Vertbaudet, John Lewis.
I did buy one a few years ago for my firstborn, it was an okay blue (not lovely dark navy which would be sensible, but still) and it came in very soft elephant cord. It was washable. So what’s your problem I hear you ask? Well
a) it was fairly small
b) we can’t find it. It’s not that small, not so small it’s lose-able for normal people, but we lost it in a box somewhere and we have too many outbuildings where said box could be. So have no sympathy.
What I really wanted, what I’ve always wanted, was a chocolate brown corduroy bean bag that was washable. It shouldn’t have been difficult to find, but it was.
I found one, but it took me ages. Of course what I should have done, ages ago, was just put “chocolate brown corduroy beanbag” into Google. But I didn’t. I went through the usual channels of looking at sites I knew. And every few months I’d renew the search, hoping the buyers would have seen sense.Every few months I was disappointed. So eventually I did just that, I put ‘chocolate brown corduroy beanbag” into Google, worked my way through the rubbish and found the site I link to below.

I rang them up to make sure it was a credible site – insofar as you can ascertain these things from a phone call – and ordered it.

It was about double what I wanted to spend and if you’re handy with a needle you could probably make your own, but I really had no desire to. It’s enough, okay, that I make my own sodding bath bombs, bread, ice cream, granola, milk and keep chickens. I don’t want to start wrestling with millions of polystyrene balls.

Anyway it’s excellent: the quality is lovely and if you pay for the “platinum upgrade” (don’t you love the title) you get an inner bag that houses the balls so you can just unzip the outer cover when you want to wash it. Why this isn’t standard, I don’t know. Why anyone would want a zip off cover that opens directly onto the stuffing, I don’t know.The size is good cos it’s perfect for what I wanted: for growing children, for me to sit on with a child on my lap. But it’s not too big. It needs to settle down a bit as it’s very ‘full’. But already my children love it and it sits in their book corner which is really draughty but the bean bag keeps them kinda warm.

Don’t waste half your life looking for a stylish bean bag. Get one here. I got the Brat Bag style/size.

Bath Bombs

These are the bath bombs in their cases, drying.

Bath bombs usually come in a ball shape (SpaceNK’s come in tablet form, tray posh) and you chuck them in the bath and they fizz like a giant Alka Seltzer and can also colour the water at the same time. Some also have things in them, like flower petals, that are then released into the water and float around like…floatsam or jetsam or whatever it is. I’d look it up but I’m meant to be writing a Very Important Piece about something terribly grown up, and if I go and look up the difference between floatsam and jetsam, before I know it, it’ll be midnight and I’ll have got onto a  Killer Whale site and enrolled on (another) trip to Antarctica.

Bath bombs cost a disproportionate amount of money for what they are. So for ages, since I bought one in Lush and almost died at the price, I’ve been really determined to make our own. I mean, how hard can they be? I can make sourdough bread FFS.

Well they’re not hard to make. Not hard at all. But finding a recipe for them was not easy. This may have changed since I last looked, and you’ll probably now all post links to 25 different sites where you can find a recipe for bath bombs. But look, when I looked there were very few, or they were all hard to follow. I’m guessing this is because they don’t want you to know how easy and cheap it can be to make because bath bombs must have a mark up of about 12,000 percent. Although that said, you do need to make them on a fairly small industrial scale as the ingredients aren’t always easy to find locally (do try though, eh?) and so you probably will spend about £12 on them, or something (I haven’t actually added it up as I’m easily distracted).

What I’m getting at is that you will probably have to make a few to get value for money.

It’s a good idea to wear a pair of disposable gloves, we always have a box on the go for cleaning out the chickens, working on the car etc, we get ours from Lakeland but most supermarkets now sell ‘one use gloves’ (which is a lie cos you can use them more than once). I also find wearing some sort of mask (or Hermes scarf tied round your face if you’re posh) an idea since I get a right sore throat after making these. They’re probably carcinogenic or something. But you have to suffer for your home made crafts. Ask Kirstie Allsop.

Then you need a bowl and ultimately you’ll need something to put your bath bombs into. We used little paper muffin cases but those silicon muffin trays would be ideal. Although the bath bombs we made are small (they’re for my daughter’s Christmas cards to her school friends, we always make cards with use, but I know I will have to put a ticket in them saying Bath Bombs DO NOT EAT), but bath bombs work best when made a bit bigger – they give a longer fizz and will colour the water more effectively.

The ingredients you will also need are sodium bicarbonate, citric acid, corn starch (cornflour works fine), some food colouring, some essential oils and some glycerine. Now you can buy all of these ingredients (save for the food colouring) from your local chemist or online from Summer Naturals.

Decide on what you’d like to use as a measure, it could be a table spoon or a cup, depending on how many you’d like to make. I’ve found you always need more than you think.

Then you take

2 measures of sodium bicarbonate
1 measure of citric acid
1 measure of corn starch
a few drops of food colouring
a few drops of good quality essential oils – I use lavender and orange, you could I suppose also use your favourite perfume, but I’ve not tried this  yet (all my perfumes are in spray bottles anyway so not sure how I’d do this).
and a good few squirts of glycerine

It’s not madly precise because you don’t have to be. You mix it all together with gloved hands (if you don’t have gloves use a spoon. It’s a bit like making an apple crumble and rubbing the butter and flour together. When you get a handful of the mixture and press it together it should stay, if it doesn’t add a bit more glycerine and corn starch.  You then pack it really tightly into whatever mould you’re using and let it dry out overnight/for a few days. Put it in an airing cupboard if you’ve got one. Then turn them out and they’re ready to use or give as presents.

You could also added dried flower petals to the mix, which would be nice I guess.

Number of the beast bread

I love this loaf

We do love white sourdough in our house, but there’s only so much white flour stuff you can (should) eat. I like the Mill loaf but that’s not sourdoughy enough for us. What I wanted was something very similar to the bread I get in Italy that’s not white, not wholemeal but suitably tangy and ‘paysan’ as we call it.

I think this loaf is it, although the more I make it the more I’ve realised that it really improves from a very long proving time, it doesn’t like being too cold and the dough should be fairly wet and sticky, so you need to be brave whilst kneading and use oil and not add any more flour. There can be a dramatic difference – better crumb, better flavour – between a loaf that’s been proved over ‘just’ 12 hours and one that’s had 24hrs plus. If the prove is too (relatively speaking) short, the bread becomes a bit too ‘wholesome’. It’s a difficult bread in that respect, to get right. 

This is what you do to make two loaves.

You take 

400g white leaven
666g cold water (number of the beast, hence the name)
500g white flour
500g wholemeal/other flour
3tsp salt (I’m experimenting with cutting this down).

You mix the leaven with the water, add the flours and salt and mix to a messy dough. 
Rest for 10 mins, then, a la Dan Lepard, knead lightly. 
Rest 10 minutes then knead lightly (I knead for twelve counts). 
Rest for 10 minutes then knead lightly. Rest for 30 minutes then knead lightly. 
Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 
Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 
Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 
Rest for two hours, then knead lightly and shape and place into two bannetons (I use a 1kilo round and a 600g baton). 
Rest in fridge overnight for a good twelve hours or more. I’ve rested it for up to 72 hours
Preheat oven to 220 with one baking tray on a high shelf, one underneath. When up to temperature turn loaf out of the banneton, slash with a bread knife and put in the oven. Whilst oven still open, turn ice cubes onto the bottom tray. Close oven and turn the temperature up to 250C and cook for 15 mins. Lower temperature to 220 for further 15 minutes.

Christmas wreath making

Christmas wreath made from stuff from my garden

As a child, when you just don’t appreciate what you have, because you are a selfish, selfish little bastard, I was very keen to live in a huge house in America. I’d seen them on films. Double fronted houses with ballroom size rooms, fridges you could live in and gardens you inevitably got married in.

What I had was a two bedroomed flat in central London with no garden. Not even a window box. Nevermind that to have a house that big, you generally had to live in Wisconsin. Nevermind that, growing up, when all my friends had to take two buses and a train home, I could almost walk home or take an affordable taxi. Nevermind that I was near all the shops and, importantly, John Lewis. Nevermind that I never knew a world existed outside of Zone 1. (Does it?)

Come Christmas, I really wanted a wreath on my door. But this seemed completely out of place in our block of flats. So I never had one and thus, dear reader, I have been chasing Christmas wreaths ever since.

When I finally wrenched myself out of the west end and moved into Old Street, I had a huge, 2″ steel door which I decorated every Christmas with a wreath from Columbia Flower Market. It was not cheap.

When I moved to the country I decided to make my own wreath. After all, now that I had a garden to plunder why should I pay for someone else’s green frippery. But how to start? This is where the wonderful mums on I Want My Mum (a website I co-founded and now no more) helped me out. Someone directed me to this site. Now look. This isn’t the most glamorous site. But let me help you. What you need are these padded wreath bases, which as you will see, are cheap. They are great because, being green, even if you have gaps it doesn’t really show. We make a big one for the front door and a small one for the playhouse.

You gather lots of foliage (a word I can’t pronounce) and tie it round the wreath with this wreath binding wire. It takes a bit of practise but we always make really great  looking wreaths. I wouldn’t recommend the berries you can buy on  that site – too artificial looking, best if you can get some real ones (although if you live in the country, the birds swop down and try to eat them). I also add dried slices of orange and apple, you can add pine cones, whatever you damn well please. (Dry the fruit in a really low oven overnight or use a dehydrator.)

It’s a fun thing to do by yourself, with the children, etc. And aside from the wreath base (which you can re-use each year) it shouldn’t cost you anything if you can forage the foliage.

Miele launches new coffee machine

This blog is about things I, personally, use (consume!). And I haven’t used, or even tried, this new coffee machine from Miele.

The new Miele CM5100 Barista Coffee machine, approx £1000

But I am a veteran of coffee machines (my father was one of London’s original baristas) and I’ve had a Miele built in coffee machine for nearly two years now. You can read a full review of the one I have (the CVA 5060) here. The Barista has just launched.

It’s a first for Miele because previously you could only get a bean machine that was built in, the only freestanding coffee machine they did used Nespresso capsules, which not everyone liked for various reasons. Personally I wouldn’t touch a Nestle product.

So to be clear: I haven’t tried this machine. But I do rate Miele coffee machines as the best domestic coffee machines you can buy and if it makes coffee anything like the machine I’ve got, you’re in for a treat. Most domestic machines (and in fact, all of the ones I’ve ever tested) haven’t got enough steam action for the milk. The Miele one does.

(A nice thing to do in this weather – if you’re not driving – is to make an espresso correto, which is an espresso with a dash of brandy/whisky.)