A peach schnapps

Peach Schnapps Diana Henry Salt Sugar Smoke

I made it two years ago when I was going through a serious cooking phase. I no longer have the recipe as it was from Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke which I’d borrowed from the library. An excellent book devoted to preserving, pickling and bottling.

I remember that a lot of peaches went into it. And vodka and I think white wine. And herbs.

It has sat unopened in a sealed Kilner jar in the back of a cupboard for almost two years, only to recently be ‘found’ by me, and cracked open. I didn’t know what to expect.

The taste is very pleasant. Smooth, aromatic. Not as strong as vodka but not far off – I’m guessing 30-35% proof. Very easy to drink.

A hint of peaches and spice. Warming. Not too sweet. Enjoyable to drink when the wine has finished and you need a digestif (or two).

Julie & Julia

Julie_and_juliaI forgot how much I liked this film, having caught it when it was on fairly late last night. Based on the blog of a true story – a young American woman – Julie Powell, who lives in the outer burbs of New York City – preparing all of the recipes from the classic recipe book of an American Francophile housewife chef – Julia Childs, over the course of a year.

The film, switching back and forth between Julia Child’s life in France (in the 1950s, as the wife of an American diplomat) and Julie’s life in naughties New York.

I just really enjoyed it. It reminded me of the ‘good’ side of blogging – starting from scratch, writing for oneself, realising – with genuine surprise – that others don’t seem to mind spending time reading what you’ve written either.

It captured a love of food, writing and France; strong themes for me.

Festive baking – sausage rolls & mince pies

So today I baked. Sausage rolls and (mini) mince pies. I made the sausage-meat mix using best-quality pork sausages, a chopped spring onion, some garlic, a bit more onion – and a handful of chopped parsley and a scant pinch of chilli powder. However, I used shop-bought puff-pastry. For the mince-pies – I made my own pastry (it contains ground almonds and also cream cheese) – but I used a jar of shop-bought mincemeat.

Next year I would really like to make both the filling and the pastry.

Anyway, very pleased with how both came out. I used my new high-qual mini-muffin tin (heavy) and they cooked really evenly and came out of the tin no problem. They really are small – each pie holding about a 1/2 teaspoonful of mincemeat.

The sausage rolls are better than the batch I made 1-2 weeks ago. The filling tastes better (I didn’t add water to it, which the BBC Goodfood recipe recommends) – and I didn’t use the food processor this time – instead using a knife to blitz the herbs/onions and then my hands to mix it all together. They’re also smaller than the last ones I made. The tip here is to (after rolling up the pastry) leave it in the fridge for a while before taking it out to slice thin pieces, using a heavy/sharp knife.

My Christmas soiree is tomorrow and I have a few more things to bake in the day.

Click any image for larger.

Home-made pizza

home-made pizza

Dough has rye flour in it and came out nice and crispy (recipe had stated strong wholemeal flour – but I don’t have any of that in so used rye).

Topping was a puttanesca sauce (olives, garlic, capers, anchovies) – left-over from some savoury palmiers I made the other day for a joint party I held with friends nearby. I also added red onion and mushrooms to this.

Pleased with how it came out. Nice crispy base and a good taste. Topping was a bit of a hybrid but the recipe overall was from John Whaite Bakes (which I currently have from the library and rather like).

I call it ‘Jam and Jerusalem’

So I made a quince and star anise jelly, having picked up some quinces whilst ‘in the sticks’ last weekend. I wouldn’t know where to buy such things in London (for a price, I’m sure they’re available) – but out in the country they were fairly inexpensive.

And here I must be honest. I had never really cooked with – or seen – a quince before. They are an ancient fruit, a cross between a large pear and an apple. They have an aromatic scent but most definitely cannot be eaten raw (they are rock hard, even when ripe). The fruit is not originally native to the UK. Instead, it comes from the East such as the furthermost Eastern European countries and also Turkey, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iran.

The recipe I used is from Telegraph food writer Diana Henry and it is pretty straight forward. The only issue I have with her recipe is that she states the yield to be 1x 500g jar. Well – I followed the recipe this week and it made 10x (225g) jars. I probably would have only bought 2 lbs of quinces rather than 4 lbs (which is what the recipe stipulates) had I known the yield would be this big. Ah well, I will be giving away almost all of it, so no problem. The only other consideration is that it needed to be made in two pans (or two batches) because my large stockpot is not big enough to hold 3.5 litres of extracted juice plus sugar. When jam/jelly is in its final phase – it goes ‘volcano-like’ – meaning you have to ensure you use a pan with a lot of headroom (i.e. less than 50% full at the outset).

The taste is agreeable. Hard to describe – fruity, obviously, but not like strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, etc. More subtle. And I like the citrus flavour in it (plus the merest hint of star anise). I also like that it’s a jelly – rather than a jam. It feels less cloying, somehow. And I like how it wobbles. It also goes very well – so the recipe states – with meats (ham, pork, duck, pheasant). It’s also very good on toast – which is how I’m likely to use it.

Finally – I haven’t ‘touched up’ these pictures; no filters used. The jelly really is that deep russet-rose-red colour.

Preserving in an age of austerity – redux

homemade pickled onions‘Blood sweat & tears’ is one phrase for it. Pickling 2kg of onions is no easy task. Takes ages (and yes, they’d had the boiling water treatment to help remove the outer skins). The pickling mix is from Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2 which I have from the library. No point me sharing any real detail until I’ve tried them in 6-8 weeks time (they need to now mature). The pickling mix had in it: mace blades, allspice berries, peppercorns, ginger, honey, cinnamon stick and mustard seeds. The second batch also had dried chillies. That steeps in the vinegar overnight. To the final jars I varied what I added (to the strained mix) – coriander seeds, chilli flakes, bay leaves.

Peeling 2kg of small onions is not for the faint hearted. I have sore fingers on my left hand.

Very cheap to do – out in the sticks, where these were procured, pickling onions are something crazy like 85p a kilo. I recycled old jars I had (ensuring the lids were in good condition). Sterilized glass and lids when it came to canning though added the vinegar cold rather than heated, as I want a crisp rather than soft end result. I also used the higher strength Sarsons pickling vinegar (6% acidity) – also very cheap to buy, and that’s what the large jar at back is from.

Anyway, as mentioned, will revert to this subject in two months time to report on whether it was worth the effort! I love pickled onions – so am hoping it was.