Monday, 11 April 2011

Busy baking day

Left: Barleycorn loaf - Right: Huge Granary loaf
 I had to wait in today for a delivery ... of course, they said it could arrive at any time between 7am and 6pm! So, I was up at 7am on the first day of the Easter school holidays and thought I may aswell concentrate on using up alot of the huge amount of fresh yeast sitting in the fridge. In the end, despite having a good try at baking everything possible, I had to freeze most of it.

I ended up making two huge wholemeal Granary loaves (one for the freezer), a Barleycorn loaf which was lovely and light (also in the freezer), two brioche loaves and a River Cottage sourdough loaf

Barleycorn loaf

A's lovely pair of baps ;~)

Left: Barleycorn loaf - Right: Brioche loaf

Sourdough loaf made using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe

Sourdough loaf
 I saw Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on TV this week making sourdough bread. He was saying about it being very rhythmic ... the sponge is made in the evening, turned into dough the next morning, knocked back and shaped at lunchtime and then baked in the evening. I've found it really hard to get into any sort of pattern with my sourdough so this routine appeals to me. 

I tried making the sponge last night and baked the loaf today. I haven't cut into it yet or tasted it but it looks good ... :~)

It's been a nice day today - hectic and tiring but good. C and F enjoyed making a rock band with a guitar (with two strings missing), cake tins and chop sticks. They were rocking to the Almighty (very loudly!) and looked perfectly happy :~)

Minted new potatoes for dinner :~) 

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Allotment work and foraging for lunch

Ladybird in the grass 
What a fantastic weekend! So hot and with a beautiful strong sun ... very strong - after several hours working at the allotment I'm now decidedly pink! A strimmed around the beds while I raked the earth and planted ten rows of onions and many, many broad beans. 
Planting onions

Hot, hot sun

Budding bushes


Goldengage branches

Apple blossom
I picked three-and-a-half pounds of the first rhubarb of the year and some Welsh onions (also known as Everlasting onions) which you use just like spring onions. I also gathered some wild cleavers (also called sticky willy or goosegrass) and nettle tops. A added a good handful of wild chives and we took it all home to cook up for lunch :~)
Wild nettles

Cleavers and nettles growing together

Omelette mixture

Wild Hampshire Omelette
(as named by little F)

Wild cleaver tops, washed and finely shredded
Nettle tops, washed and finely shredded (your fingers will tell you you're alive!)
Wild chives, washed and chopped
Welsh onions (or spring onions), sliced
Bacon, chopped
Oil or butter for frying


Place the cleavers and nettles into a pan with a small amount of water. Cover and simmer until wilted and soft - this will soften any stems and break down the nettle's sting. In a frying pan, add the oil or butter and fry the bacon and onions. Drain the softened greens and mix with the eggs and cooked bacon. Beat them together and then add to the hot omelette pan. Cook until the base is done and then cover with a handful of grated cheese and finish off under the grill until melted and golden.
Omelette cooking

Ready for lunch :~)

The rhubarb was turned into a crumble for after the roast :~) I cook the rhubarb with a little extra water, sugar and a teaspoon of ground ginger. Before adding the cooked rhubarb to the crumble dish, I drain the bright pink liquid off and store it in a bottle. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and it's delicious when mixed with lemonade and a sprig of mint. S has been enjoying it this afternoon and looks very sophisticated supping pink fizz from a wine glass! 
First rhubarb of the year

Rhubarb, ginger and lemonade

Broad beans ready for sowing

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Years ago, I used to bake dozens of Gingernuts every few weeks. It must have been the perfect recipe because they turned out brilliantly ... buttery, with just the right amount of chewiness and with that rough, craggy look on top that they should have. 

I guess we must have all got fed up with Gingernuts at some point because I didn't make them for a while and we've moved house a couple of times since then. Now, of course, I can't remember which book the recipe is in and I've searched and searched all my recipe books but just can't find it. Actually, that was a big part of the motivation for starting this blog - I really wanted somewhere where I could record recipes, etc. that I'm currently using and have something to refer back to.

Gingernuts for lunchboxes and school snacks

This is the recipe I'm currently using which is quite nice but just isn't quite as good as the original:

8oz (225g) plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tblsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
4oz (125g) butter
6oz (185g) sugar
2 fl oz (60ml, 1/4 cup) water
1 tblsp syrup

Preheat the oven to Gas 4 (180C) and line a couple of baking sheets with baking paper.

Stir together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices. In a small pan, heat together the butter, sugar, syrup and water until melted. Stir the liquid in to the dry ingredients until well combined. Place flattened spoonfuls onto the baking sheets and bake until golden for around 15 minutes. Allow to cool and firm up for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Canned Bolognese sauce

USDA recipe for spaghetti sauce with meat to make 9 pint jars:

30lbs tomatoes
2 1/2 lbs minced beef
5 cloves garlic
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped green pepper or celery
1lb mushrooms, sliced (optional)
4 tblsp chopped parsley
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp dried oregano
4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper

Optionally add water for a thinner sauce.


Brown the beef and drain off the fat. Add the garlic, onions, green peppers and mushrooms. Sauté for around 3 minutes until tender. Add the tomatoes, herbs, sugar and seasoning. Add water if a thinner sauce is wanted. Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes.

Ladle into hot jars with 1 inch headspace. Process at 10lb pressure for 60 minutes. 

Jar of hot Bolognese sauce before sealing and processing

My version which made 13 pint jars in the end:

3 quarts (roughly) of a mixture of chopped fresh and tinned tomatoes
3lb minced beef
Handful dried garlic flakes
2 chopped onions
1 chopped green pepper
1 chopped stick celery
1lb mushrooms, sliced
2 handfuls dried italian herb mix
3 Kallo beef stock cubes
Generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine

I was careful to leave the inch headspace this time and then processed the jars at 11lb (nearer 12lb actually) for 75 minutes, just because that's what worked well for the chilli and I'd much rather over process than under. 

The quality isn't great in the video above but it's showing the inside of the canner after it had been left to cool and de-pressurise. The jars were still boiling like mad! I'm not sure how long this was after I'd turned it off ... maybe half an hour? Just goes to show how incredibly hot it gets in there! Being much more careful about the headspace worked because the jars didn't overflow this time.  

I used three of the jars in a pasta bake for the Munchkins last night and it all got polished off with several coming back for seconds so I'll take that as a thumbs up for the sauce :~) 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Canning Chilli

Three boxes of Kilner jars!!!
I bought a canner recently and have been waiting very, very impatiently to try it out! Home canning is pretty well-known in the US but virtually unheard of over here in the UK. I bought the canner from the US and had it shipped over. The canner was roughly £50, plus another £50 for shipping and then I got stung for a £20 customs charge - so around £120 in all. Eeek! Good job I *really* wanted one! It's going to have to save us that money over time too so has its work cut out! I'm planning on canning alot of the allotment produce from this year though so we won't have to be paying out for the freezer electric it would normally use up.

For anyone who isn't familiar with canning or canners, it's basically a big pressure cooker which you use on the stovetop. You put the food into Kilner jars, put them inside the canner with several inches of water and pop the lid on the canner. You bring the water to the boil and let it "vent" through the steam vent for ten minutes to get rid of any air in the canner. After that time, you put a regulator weight over the steam vent and let the pressure begin building. The pressure you need to get it to depends on your altitude - the way a canner works is by getting the jars and food well above normal boiling point to kill off any bacteria (including botulism, which normal boiling temperature doesn't kill) and create a vacuum in the jars to seal them.

I picked up three dozen Kilner jars (£30, bargain!) on Sunday and tried out canning for the first time ... Chilli Con Carne. It's recommended that you only use recipes which have been fully tested by the USDA so that safe canning is then pretty failsafe - they've tested the pressure needed and the processing time. 
Heaven :~)
Here's the USDA's tested Chilli recipe:

3 cups dried pinto or red kidney beans
5-1/2 cups water
5 tsp salt (separated)
3 lbs ground beef
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped peppers of your choice (optional)
1 tsp black pepper
3 to 6 tbsp chili powder
2 quarts crushed or whole tomatoes
Yield: 9 pints
Procedure: Wash beans thoroughly and place them in a 2 qt. saucepan. Add cold water to a level of 2 to 3 inches above the beans and soak 12 to 18 hours. Drain and discard water. Combine beans with 5-1/2 cups of fresh water and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Drain and discard water. Brown ground beef, chopped onions, and peppers (if desired), in a skillet. Drain off fat and add 3 teaspoons salt, pepper, chili powder, tomatoes and drained cooked beans. Simmer 5 minutes. Caution: Do not thicken. Fill hot jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel. Adjust lids and process.

Here's the recipe using UK measurements and tinned kidney beans instead of dried and a few different flavourings: 

3lbs lean minced beef
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
2 fresh red chillis, deseeded and very finely chopped
Generous amount freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 level teaspoons salt
Handful of dried garlic flakes
2 tsp ground cumin 
3 tblsp hot chilli powder
64 fl oz (just over 3 pints) tinned chopped tomatoes
3 400g tins kidney beans, drained and rinsed

The method I used was the same as above.
Jar of Chilli before processing
 I had a taste of the sauce before it was jarred up and it's pretty spicy! I'm surprised how thick the Chilli is actually - after reading so much about how you mustn't thicken things (as in using granules, flour ,etc.) if you're going to can them and after reading about how purees are dodgy to can because they're too thick for the heat to get through properly, I expected a pretty runny Chilli but it's alot thicker than I would normally cook it. I think when I use it I may add an extra tin of tomatoes with it to loosen it up a bit and to help cool it down for the kids. I *love* alot of Chilli heat but I think they'd moan :~)
Jars in the canner ready for processing
 I processed the jars at 12lb instead of the 11lb that the recipe said, just to be on the safe side and I also gave them 10 minutes extra just to be sure. Me ... paranoid? Yup!
Up to pressure
 After they were done and the canner had cooled and de-pressurised, I tentatively opened it up and saw lots of intact jars (phew!) but water stained with tomato and fat floating on the top of it ... Hmmmmn. Hadn't they sealed?
My canner :~)

Jars in the canner after processing - can you see the slight staining of the water?
 I left the jars in the canner to cool and could hear all the lids popping down and sealing which was reassuring. When they were completely cooled I took the screw tops off, checked that the sealing disc was firmly down (they all were) and washed them thoroughly to get rid of the overflowed Chilli. Even then, the lids all stayed completely sealed. 
Jar of Chilli after processing
 As you can see from the pic below, I photographed the stained jar lid and then posted that on a canning group asking if it was ok to store them. Two people got back paying it's quite common for that to happen when canning meat and that, as long as the seals stay good, then they're fine to store. Thank goodness for that! Next time I'll leave more headspace (the gap between the top of the food and the lid). I haven't tried the Chilli yet but may use some later in the week. Will report back about how it is :~)
Leaked Chilli under the ring
 I reckon I could adjust the recipe really well for a dish  the Munchkins like alot, Smokey Joe's Beef n' Beans, if I use different beans and swap the chilli powder for smoked paprika. 

Friday, 1 April 2011

Friday night

Small dog ...

Pairs of dogs waiting for treats :~)

Homemade pizzas

Fresh yeast

... and a bottle of Rioja ... a good Friday night :~)