Christmas Pudding Reboot

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The view from the farm kitchen window

Last Sunday, November 26, was “Stir Up Sunday” in Britain, a time for family and friends to gather and make the Christmas pudding for the upcoming holiday. I traveled up to Nethergill Farm to cook up puddings with my sister-in-law, Fiona. We were using the recipe of Dorothy Clark, our late mother-in-law, and added a few twists to make it our own.

Dorothy’s recipe used glace cherries and candied citrus peel but we updated these flavors by adding dried cranberries, blueberries and apricots and dried cherries that were soaked in apple juice to keep them plump and moist. We used eggs from Fi’s laying hen ladies; she checks each for freshness by putting it in a cup of water – if they float they are no good.

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The fat traditionally used in Christmas Pudding is beef suet. We opted for the vegetable version but, after reading the ingredients (palm oil) , we still used it this year but decided we would try butter next time.

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The recipe is dead easy to put together, simply measure all ingredients and put in a large bowl then stir until incorporated.

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The mixture gets packed into pudding bowls then greaseproof paper is tied down over the top.

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Followed by foil then a sturdy folded ribbon of foil is added to make “handles”.

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Then it steams for 6 hours, which is a mighty long time.

Now our cooked puddings, with coverings still in place, are stored until Christmas Day when they will get another further steaming.

We can’t find out how they will taste for another month or so but it was a lot of fun reawakening a tradition and making extra puddings to give to family that won’t be with us on the holiday.

Granny’s Christmas Pudding

225 g (8oz) each of sultanas, currants, seedless raisins, fresh breadcrumbs, vegetable suet*, demerara sugar and golden syrup

113 g (4oz) each of dried cranberries and dried blueberries

165 g (6oz) dried apricots cut in fine dice

100 g (4oz) dried cherries

100 g (4oz) blanched almonds, chopped

100 g (4oz) ground almonds

2 carrots, peeled and grated

1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated

1/2 teaspoon each of mixed spice and cinnamon

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon and 1 orange

4 eggs beaten

4 tablespoons brandy

140 ml (1/4 pint) brown ale

butter for greasing pudding basins

  1. Measure all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir well to mix.
  2. Generously butter the insides of 3-2 pint pudding basins or 6-1 pint pudding basins. The exact yield may vary a bit from these measurements but have the basins ready to go and you can always alter the final number depending on how far the mixture goes.
  3. Fill the basins a tad over 3/4’s full. Cover with greaseproof paper and tie snugly with string then cover with foil and tie down again with string.
  4. Have ready a saucepan for each pudding and put a trivet or upside down saucer in the bottom of each then top with the puddings. Add enough water to come a couple inches up the sides of the basin.
  5. Cover and bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 6 hours, topping up water as needed.
  6. Store in a cool, dry place until ready to eat – I put mine in the fridge.
  7. When ready to serve, reboil again for 2-3 hours until the middle is piping hot.
  8. Turn out onto a serving platter and serve with brandy butter and cream.
  9. For a dazzling finish, ignite the pudding by pouring warmed brandy over the top and lighting it.

*Vegetable suet: Neither of us liked using this product and we later found out that butter is perfectly acceptable and would likely make the puddings taste better so next year that is what we will use. Our mother-in-law always used beef suet.

 

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Okra – a Love Hate Relationship

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Okra is one of those black and white vegetables – you either love it or hate it. Just to set the record straight, I’m an okra lover so when I walked by the local halal market and saw a box of these green fingers, I had to buy some.

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I was craving gumbo-style soup on that gray day and okra is a key ingredient. It imparts a wonderful texture as it cooks – some would say a peculiar slime – but in this recipe the viscosity adds body and heartiness to the soup.

It’s easy to make and comes together in about 30 minutes. First, saute the vegetable trinity of New Orleans cuisine: chopped onions, celery and bell pepper. Sweat these vegetables until they release their juices and are tender.

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Slice the okra in 1/2″ pieces then add that to the pot along with garlic and stir briefly until garlic is fragrant.

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Add chicken stock, tomatoes, a bay leaf and some cooked chicken. If I have some in the house, I also add cubed zucchini and fresh corn cut off the cob. Simmer the soup until the vegetables are tender, add cooked rice and serve it up, maybe with a nice slab of cornbread.

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You can take this soup in a lot of different directions. Add Andouille sausage and raw shrimp for a heartier gumbo, make it vegetarian by leaving out all animal proteins or use turkey instead of chicken (thinking ahead here to Thanksgiving leftovers).

In any case, it’s a handy little soup that I often make after a roasted chicken dinner, using the carcass for stock and the leftover meat for the soup. Top with a few squirts of Sriracha sauce and, as they like to say here in London, “Bob’s your uncle”.

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Chicken Gumbo Soup

2 T olive oil

1 cup diced onion

1/2 cup each diced celery and green bell pepper

2 cloves garlic minced

1 1/2  cups okra, sliced in 1/2″ coins

2 cups chicken stock, more if necessary

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1-14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes and their juice

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat, in bite-sized pieces

1 cup cooked Basmati rice

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion, celery and pepper and saute until vegetables are soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add garlic and okra and stir until garlic is fragrant then add the stock, bay leaf and tomatoes. Season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower heat to barely simmering, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are cooked through. Add the chicken and rice and heat through. If needed, thin with additional chicken stock or water. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with Sriracha sauce or Tabasco if desired.

Yield: 4 servings

 

 

 

 

 

A Second Life for that Loaf

Recently friends were visiting and came back from a day playing tourist with a gift of a lovely, large baguette.

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We didn’t use it that night or the next day and when I pulled it out of the bread box it was hard as a rock. I hate wasting food so started thinking up ways to use it up.

First, I cut a third of it into cubes using a sharp serrated knife then fried some of them with garlic and oil to make crispy croutons for salad or to top a steaming bowl of soup.

 

The rest of the cubes became the base for a savory mushroom and asparagus bread pudding inspired by a recipe from Georgeanne Brennan.

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The rest were whizzed into crumbs in the blender.

Breadcrumbs are extremely versatile and can be kept in the freezer for months. You can just pull out the amount you need then return them for future recipes. Crumbs can be used for binding meatloaf and meatballs, crisped and used on pasta dishes or as a crunchy topping for vegetables or coating for oven-fried chicken or fish. I made baked apricots and cherries with amaretto crumbs for dessert last night with great results; the dish would also be good at breakfast topped with yogurt.

So hang onto that stale loaf and give it a second life in recipes for just about every meal of the day.

BAKED STONE FRUIT WITH CRUMBS

Now that stone fruits are coming into season you can try different varieties to suit your taste.

4 apricots, halved

6 cherries, pitted

4 tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon Amaretto

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 F/200 C. Arrange the apricots and cherries in a single layer in a small baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients and sprinkle evenly over the surface of the fruit. Bake in a hot oven for 12-15 minutes until fruit is soft and jammy and crumbs are crisp and golden. Serve warm with ice cream or cold with yogurt.

Yield: 2-3 servings

 

Magic from the Isle of Wight

The first time I strolled through our weekly farmers market in Balham, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful stall from Isle of Wight tomatoes.

All through the dreary London winter, the folks from Isle of Wight would show up each week with their bounty of fresh tomatoes in shades of yellow and red as well as a bevy of products from the farm, such as passata, ketchup, slow roasted tomatoes with spices and organic oak roasted tomatoes.

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When I marvelled at finding fresh tomatoes in London in January, they explained that the Isle of Wight is positioned to get more sun then the mainland of England. The farm is located in the Arreton Valley, an area that has produced tomatoes for quite some time in the rich, loamy soil there. The tomatoes are vine-ripened in large greenhouses and nourished with compost produced on-site from all the spent plants and other growing material. Upwards of 200 varieties are grown throughout the year by both organic and conventional methods and Isle of Wight uses biodynamic principles to curb pests, pollinate the plants and promote natural habitats around the farm.

Lately the stall has had padron peppers, those petite, piquant capsicums popular at Spanish tapas restaurants.

They are dead easy to prepare and lip-smacking good to eat. Simply heat a pan and add a generous splash of really good olive oil. When it’s shimmering, toss in the padrons. Stir them frequently in the hot oil until they blister and get browned then turn out on a platter and serve with salt – I used Hawaiian red salt.

Another inspiring product, the oak smoked tomatoes, featured this week in a bastardised Caprese salad for lunch. Smoked and fresh tomatoes were mixed with chunks of ripe avocado and creamy, fresh mozzarella then showered with fresh basil and splashes of Tuscan olive oil; each bite transported me to Florence in the early summer when tomatoes and basil have just returned from winter break. The smoked tomatoes contributed intense bursts of flavor with a haunting backbeat. Tonight I’m thinking of adding them to a cheesy pasta dish with asparagus but they’d also be great with other starchy ingredients like potatoes or rice or in egg dishes.

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Suffice it to say the products at Isle of Wight Tomato Farm really get my creative juices flowing. And I’ve been nourished in health and spirit by a little taste of summer even when a cold rain is falling outside.

A Week in the Life

London has an incredible diversity of activities to experience and I’ve been out there doing just that. In this past week, I’ve shopped at the fabulous Borough Market,

walked through a gorgeous tribute to India’s use of orchids at Kew Gardens,

and seen how they play ice hockey in England as the Streatham Red Hawks took on the Invicta Dynamos

And after all that running around we still had to eat. A look in the fridge revealed leftover roast chicken and not much more than that. I remembered Lancashire hotpot from the comforting detective show “Hetty Wainthropp Investigates” and came up with this recipe using chicken instead of the traditional lamb. It’s an easy way to use up leftovers for a quick, nourishing supper.

First, sauté onions in olive oil until golden

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Then whisk in some flour to make a roux

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Stir and cook the roux until it is lightly browned then whisk in chicken stock

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Bring to a boil then lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes or so until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Fold in the chicken and some cooked vegetables and incorporate well.

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Transfer the stew into an oven proof casserole and top with thinly sliced potatoes then brush the potatoes with olive oil or melted butter and pop in the oven.

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Voila! In no time flat a hotpot worthy of Hetty and her crew is ready to enjoy.

Chicken Hotpot a la Hetty Wainthropp

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 onion, chopped

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

salt and pepper

2 cups cooked chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces

2 cups cooked vegetables such as carrots, peas, turnips, zucchini, mushrooms

2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350F/160C. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat then add the onions and sauté until golden and softened. Whisk in the flour until a smooth roux forms and cook for a few minutes then add the chicken stock and whisk rapidly over high heat. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring frequently until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and fold in chicken and vegetables then transfer to a medium ovenproof casserole dish. Smooth the top then lay the sliced potatoes in a spiral design over the stew. Brush the potatoes with the remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the stew is bubbling and the potatoes are browned and crusty, about 35-40 minutes.

 

Signs of Spring in London

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Since my last post, I picked up stakes and moved from sunny California to London, arriving in mid-October. The city is quite a contrast to my suburban West Coast home with it’s large garden and temperate climes. Here, the constant frigid grayness of January has merged into rainy, chilly February – which had me searching last weekend for signs of spring.

Delicate snow drops are peeking out of just-thawed dirt throughout London’s vacant lots, public parks and gardens. I took this photo at Chelsea Physic Garden last weekend.

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Another sign showed up on the produce shelves at my local Waitrose grocery store. Known as “forced rhubarb”, this typically spring vegetable (that is treated like a fruit) is grown indoors under curious circumstances. Coming from an area known as the rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire, the rhizome is initially started outdoors where it absorbs nutrients from the sun, and is moved indoors after the first frost in November. Once inside the rhubarb shed, it is grown in complete darkness and harvested by candlelight (Image courtesy ChicagoNow) throughout the winter months.

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This treatment creates ruby red, subtly sweet and tender stalks. In 2010 the EU designated the rhubarb triangle a PDO – Protected Designation of Origin status – a recognition bestowed on such lofty products as Stilton for its cheese and Champagne in France.

The cheery crimson sticks make a great compote when cooked up with exotic spices. I used star anise, whole cloves and a cinnamon stick along with orange juice and zest and layered the compote with rich rice pudding in parfait glasses.

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However the mixture would be tasty paired with your morning porridge or yogurt and granola or delicious served alongside sausages, roast pork or duck, turkey and chicken.

Start by cutting the trimmed stalks in 1 inch pieces.

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Then simmer them in a wide saucepan with the sugar, spices and orange until just soft.

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My hope is that this little taste of spring will stay with me until the days get longer, the gray skies clear and London bursts into the blooming, bird singing springtime of my dreams.

Spiced Poached Rhubarb

1 pound rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut in 1″ pieces

2 whole star anise pods

1 cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

Juice and zest of 1 large navel orange

6 tablespoons brown, muscovado or coconut sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a wide saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat so mixture is on a gentle simmer and cook until rhubarb is just-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

 

 

 

 

Bowled Over

Meal bowls are an easy way to get dinner on the table in a jiffy. In my recent article on Zester Daily  I explore the topic and give some recipes using seasonal ingredients and tips on how to creatively repurpose leftovers into yummy bowls for every meal of the day.

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This savory yogurt bowl doubles as a fantastic dip with pita chips or crudités.