Sunday, 15 November 2015

Fabulous Sticky, Sweet, Sugary, Crystallized Orange Peel.

Who would have thought this was so easy?

I recently finished my precious stash of Italian artisan crystallized peel, and I was about to peel an orange.   I like to use my old Tupperware orange peeler - What do you mean, you haven't got one? Didn't you go to any Tupperware parties back in the 70s? They gave them away all the time... what's that... you weren't born then?

Oh.  Well, look, they are these can still find them on eBay and Amazon.

So anyway, I was peeling my orange, and with these, you peel your orange in nice petal shaped pieces, that include all the pith. They looked just like my artisan Italian orange peel. You see where I'm going, don't you?

Remember, girls and boys, Google is your friend.  A quick shuffle through the interwebs, and it would seem that crystallizing your orange peel is something commonplace. You start by putting your orange peel petals in cold water and bringing it to the boil, and then chuck the water away. Don't fret, as you throw the aromatic golden water down the sink, that you are throwing all the taste away; there is still plenty of flavour in your orange peel. But too much of the wonderful orange oil can be bitter and make your mouth tingle, so it is better fragrancing your pipes than searing your throat.

You now do the blanching and jettisoning of the water again. Then one more time, but this time don't chuck the water, let the peel simmer for about 20 minutes until nice and soft and you can push a skewer through without any resistance. Once the peel goes into the sugar (the process is the same for marmalade) it won't get any softer so you want it as soft as you like it now.

I used the peel from two large navel oranges, as I was making this as an experiment and didn't want to make too much at once. By the way, you don't want the thin skinned oranges, you want something with a fairly thick slightly nobbly skin. The pith will go transparent and delicious when it is candied

For that amount of peel, you only need a small pan, so it's not going to take forever to come to the boil. Dissolve 500g of granulated sugar gently in 300g of water, and when it is all dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil. Drain your softened oranges and carefully pop them into the boiling sugar. Bring the sugar down to a nice simmery boil, not a massive seethe as you don't want to risk it starting to caramelise.  Let them boil for 45 minutes, then remove them onto an oiled rack to cool down. (Do not throw the syrup away, we're going to do something with that whilst the orange peel cools down.)

When the orange peel is cool, toss it into a ziplock bag of granulated sugar to keep for deliciously orangey buns, and Christmas cake. Or, slice into matchsticks and toss these in granulated sugar for lovely, sticky twigs of joy. To eat as they are, or to dip into dark, glossy chocolate for pretty petit fours.

Are you looking at that pan of syrup now? Ah, it is still on a low heat keeping warm? Well first of all, get the remains of that pot of double cream out of the fridge, pick up the salty butter. And grab the pack of Maldon salt. Now crank up that heat, you are going to caramelise the remaining bit.

No stirring now. Just shake it from time to time to spread the heat evenly. There is still quite a bit of moisture in the syrup so it will be very frothy, unlike when you make caramel from scratch, but give it time, you'll start to see the edges go brown. Start sniffing. You want the caramel smell to just have a faintly bitter edge, but don't overdo it. Bitter is good, burnt is not.  Pour in a nice glug of cream.

No, I don't know how much, as I don't know how much syrup you have left over. But enough to make it the right colour. It will seethe and froth and the caramel will turn to a fat lump in the middle. Don't panic. Just put it back on a lowish heat and stir with a silicon spatula until the caramel has melted back into the cream. The stir in a couple of tablespoons of salted butter, and a good sprinkling of Maldon salt. You can add a couple of drops of good orange essence if you want to push the orange flavour up.  Stir it all up, let it cool slightly and pot it as you would jam.  I made two one small pots of golden brown glory.

Let it cool down, then either spoon it over icecream, onto the bottom of a tart case to be topped with bananas and whipped cream.

Or, take a spoon and lovingly eat it. I assure you I didn't make two pots full, I only made one. The empty one with a spoon is a figment of your imagination....

Saturday, 10 October 2015


We live our lives (or I do) cooking fast these days. Sausages. Chops. Pork steaks. Anything quick and easy.

But.... I love my gravy. And that's good to go if I am pan frying something, as I've got all those lovely caramelised bits in the pan. And roasting of course, no worries, but that takes too long for everyday; roasting is for weekends or days with time to spare.  But if I am grilling, that's tougher.  Nothing to make good gravy. And I don't like Bisto...

I am here to evangelise about the new meat glaces from Essential Cuisine. I apologise in advance if I sound like an infomercial, but they are really, really good. They've had the glaces in the professional bit for ages, and a while back they introduced them into the Home Chef section, but only in quite big pots. They were too expensive for me to invest in since I wanted ALL the flavours.

But now they've introduced them in smaller pots at a much more affordable price. And since you don't need more than a teaspoon full at a time, that's good for a LOT of meals.

So how do I make gravy with no meat juices? I make a roux, as if I were going to make a sauce, but with oil rather than butter and keeping it very thin. Then I mix in some water from the veggies until it is the thickness I like. Then I add a bit of Essential stock powder, and, for the two of us, a good half teaspoonful of meat glace.

Or, you can use a gravy powder, (I like the Essential ones again... but then, if you read my blogs you'll know I am a great fan of Essential, they really do taste much better than other similar things) and add in the glace. And I promise you, it tastes as though you've used the juices from a roast.

We had lamb chops yesterday. I don't like using the fat from the grill pan, it is just too greasy. So I used a bit of lamb stock powder and some lamb glace added into Essential Savoury Gravy powder. Look at the delicious colour on this!

DISCLAIMER: I received samples of the glaces from Essential to say thank you because I rave about their stocks so much. I make no apologies for raving. They are GOOD!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The best of A Greedy Piglet..#understandblackberries

It was all the way back in 2011 that I posted this originally, back on the original Greedy Piglet blog. This was the first time that I met the inimitable Carol Ford, and realised just how much I love fresh produce.

This, of course, was all about the blackberries, and was somewhat later in the year, but I have LOADS of raspberries in the garden, and I am hearing that everyone is groaning under the weight of raspberries, loganberries, tayberries, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants..all the glory of English summer berries seems to be hitting us at once.

So here is how to make the most delectable fruit vinegar. You can substitute any soft fruit for the blackberries in this recipe. In fact, one of my favourites is the most frugal. I use a stoner to take the stones out of my cherries, which leaves a little cap of fruit on one end. I throw the stones into a bowl cover them in wine vinegar, and then just add more stones as I go, topping up the vinegar to make sure it keeps them covered, until there is sufficient vinegar and it is sufficiently fruity to strain and sweeten for keeping. 

By the way, the vinegar keeps amazingly well. I still have a teeeny bit left from this 2011 batch, and it is still rich and delicious.


It is the end of home grown summer fruit now... so sad, but it has lasted longer than usual this year with the mild autumn weather we have been having. And among the last to leave the supermarkets were the blackberries.


I have always treated blackberries as wild foraged fruit, rather than fruit to buy in the supermarket, but lots of our foraged blackberry bushes finished very early, so I turned to cultivated varieties. To my surprise, this year's fruit has been exceptionally large and sweet. Why is this?

I discovered why when I was invited by Carol Ford of Growing Direct to the #UnderstandingBlackberries event held by Berry Buddies Hargreaves Plants to introduce the Reuben blackberry to a group of interested people. I was thrilled to be included, most of the people who were invited were connected with the trade, either in a growing or selling capacity, or as a member of the specialist press. I, of course, am none of the above, but still found the event fascinating. The deeply technical information from Prof John Clark of Arkansas University, and Jane Fairlie of Hargreaves Plants , was balanced by the fun of listening to the esteemed Peter Seabrook, who excited us all with stories of his work in schools, nurturing the next generation of gardeners. The new Reuben blackberries are being created to grow and crop in one season, which will be perfect for introducing berries to schools, who need the children to be able to plant and harvest their crops within the confines of a single school year.

The Reuben blackberry is important to the consumer as it is sweeter, has a longer growing period, and resists mould. Sweetness is good for a lot of people, although to be honest, I like my berries on the tart side, but the resistance to mould is a real seller for me. I have thrown so many raspberries and blackberries away just because I didn't eat them in the short 1-2 day window you get from buying them to opening the fridge and finding them wet and starting to mould.

The Reuben not only eats well as a dessert fruit, it cooks well too. The second half of #understandingblackberries kicked off with Vickie Humber from Humbers Homemade preserves showing just how simple it is to make good jam. Well, it is simple if you have the knack, and Vickie certainly has. ( Her Blackberry jam is truly delicious. In fact it may knock Raspberry of its perch as my favourite jam. Even in a Women's Institute Victoria sponge it would be better than raspberry! )

Chef Jose Souto produced some fabulous muntjac deer with blackberry sauce, and a truly scrumptious blackberry and meringue semifreddo that could also be served as a mousse. I could have eaten both again and again and again...

Blackberry Semifreddo

Rupert Parsons of Womersley Fruit Vinegars was with us too, offering tastings of his stunning award winning blackberry vinegar. I have been a huge fan of Rupert's family vinegars for a while now, they are brilliant as salad dressings and added to meat and fish to intensify the flavours. Vickie of Humbers Homemade also produces a range of vinegars. All of them are delicious - if you haven't tried fruit vinegars yet, I must urge you to try.

Of course, in the best way of true food lovers, I felt that I had to try my hand at making vinegar too. I might not get the same level of finesse as Rupert and Vickie (after all, they are professional and have been making fruit vinegar for a lot longer than I have..) but it would be interesting to see how the flavours would differ. And, not being one to do things in small ways, I decided to make a selection of three types of blackberry vinegar, all made using the same amount of fruit and vinegar, roughly according to Pam Corbin's recipe. I used wild brambles, Loch Ness (culinary) blackberries and Reuben (dessert) blackberries.

I say roughly, she uses 600ml of vinegar to 1kg of fruit. I made mine with 500g of fruit to 500 ml white wine vinegar, steeped for 10 days in a bowl covered in clingfilm, kept in the cool. After the 10 days, strain the vinegar through a jelly bag ( best left overnight in the same way as for jellies) and then add between 150-300g of sugar for every 500ml of strained vinegar (dependent on how sweet you like your vinegar). Let the sugar dissolve, then boil for around 8-12 minutes until syrupy. Don't boil for any longer though, or you will end up with it concentrating and setting too much, more like jelly than syrup. (Don't throw the strained blackberries out, add them to a pan of chopped crab or cooking apples to boil up to produce blackberry and apple juice for jelly, or add them into a favourite apple chutney recipe to add intense fruitiness. Remember the frugality mantra.. waste NOTHING..)

It is heavenly stuff. I love it with sparkling water as a refreshing drink, mixed with a little extra wine vinegar as a fat free salad dressing, spooned over meat as a glaze (in the way that Chef Jose glazed the venison) or mixed into gravies (in the same way that classically trained chefs use a gastrique) to add depth and zing to the flavour.

It was interesting that the different blackberries did certainly add different things to the vinegars. I love the intense sweetness of the wild blackberries, but interestingly, many people found that too sweet and sour, and preferred the gentler vinegars made from the cultivated berries.

An interesting and highly educational evening, thank you to everyone.

Now....are you hungry? So who's for blackberry and apple crumble then?

Friday, 26 June 2015

it's #NationalCreamTeaDay today!

It is today! National Cream Tea Day, and Rodda's Cream 125th Anniversary.

Clotted cream. Home made raspberry jam. Delicious.

Jam on the top or on the bottom? Do you care? I guess that, being a Londoner, I am more interested in getting the little nugget of creamy jamminess into my mouth than arguing for a West Country standard. So I shall swap mine about, sometimes on top, sometimes underneath, that blanket of thick, mellow creamy richness.

Because clotted cream is Rodda's clotted cream (I use Sainsbury's TTD as this is made by Rodda's) .

Jam I am not fussy about, so long as it rich and fruity. (although this one is home made raspberry jam and is delicious)

But I am fussy about my scone. Firstly, it is a SKONN. None of that odd SKONE business.

Brian Bilston on the Twitters said this today, his poem for #NationalCreamTeaDay:


Is it pronounced
or scone?

I guess that's
what you'd call
a known un-known

Or, for some,
a non un-non

So there you are it would be a non un-non in this house. If it were un-non of course. Although it is non to me to be a scone. Anyway...

Scones to be eaten with jam and cream are soft, billowy and creamy smooth.
They are not crumbly.
They are not dry.
They do not have dried fruit in them
They do not have spice in them

They look like this:

OK? So here is how you do it...

My recipe: based on Dan Lepard's Everyday Scones from Short and Sweet 

Before you start, pre-heat the oven to just above 200C/ 400F/gas mark 6

200g everyday plain flour
200g 00 pasta flour (I like Sainsbury's TTD own brand one)
2 level tsp cream of tartar
half level tsp salt
20g caster sugar - or more or less according to how you sweet you like your scones. This makes a scone that has just a faint sweetness to complement the jam

Mix this together in a bowl.
Rub in
50g unsalted butter (or salted if that is what you have, in which case leave out the half tsp salt above)

Meanwhile in a jug, mix together
250 ml slightly sour whole milk, or milk blended with a few tablespoons of yoghurt
25ml double cream
1tsp bicarb of soda
(adding the bicarb of soda to the milk seems to make the scones lighter and doesn't leave any soda patches to taste soapy in your mouth)

Add the liquid to the dry mixture, and lightly blend together using a table knife, not a wooden spoon. You want to keep the mixture light and not compressed in any way.  When it is almost fully blended, tip it out onto the worktop, and lightly knead using just the tips of your fingers to incorporate all the flour.

Pat the mixture out to about an inch thick - I prefer not to roll, I think it compresses the mixture, but give it a go if you like. If you are making square scones, to minimise any waste, then square up the edges using a palette knife or similar, and then cut into 12 squares.

If you prefer, roll the mixture out keeping it nice and thick, and cut round scones. Very lightly knead the trimmings and cut more, but only do that once, any more and they will be really heavy.

Well flour a baking tray, and put the scones on to the floured surface, not touching but not far apart. They rise straighter if they are close together.  Brush the tops with milk (or egg if you like them golden but I prefer the softer gloss of milk)

Bake for 14 minutes until gently golden but sides are still pale.

Allow to cool slightly, then slather with jam and cream and eat :) 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The London Produce Show 2015

I love a good trade show... all those amazing new things to try, loads of people to talk to, to exchange information, and generally geek about food to our hearts delight.

The London Produce Show has to be a favourite, being all about fresh produce, the nuts and bolts of the food we eat, the delicious and amazing cornucopia of fruit and vegetables we grow here, and source from around the world.

There were terrific chef demos as well as stalls from individual suppliers, not least 2 for the Media Masterclass, where we tasted dishes that were prepared in front of us. Jeremy Pang from The School of Wok, and the Nikkei Boys, Michael Paul and Jordan Sclare, from Chotto Matte did their stuff, and we demolished it all with glorious gusto.

 thanks again London Produce Show, looking forward to 2016!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Diana Henry's "A Bird in the Hand" - Chicken with anchovies, lemon and rosemary

It is a long story , the one about waiting to get hold of Diana Henry's fabulous cookery book A Bird in the Hand

Three copies the publisher sent to me, three copies disappeared into the black hole that is Royal Mail. But eventually it and I were united, and I was finally a happy chick.

I gave the honours of first choice to Bob, and he homed in on Chicken with anchovies, lemon and rosemary.  It is not dissimilar to my favourite Spezzatina, made with anchovies and vinegar, but this one has onions (should have been shallots, but I didn't have any) and wine, and is topped with lemon and garlic - I added parsley to that mixture, to make a classic Italian gremolata, which I love. 

It came out beautifully. Apart from the little tweaks above (and where would I be if I didn't tweak) I followed the recipe, and it came out just as it should. 

We had roast Italian style potatoes and fresh, lightly blanched spring greens and it was gorgeous. And easy!! Hurray for easy! 

disclaimer: I was sent a review copy, but I did the cooking, the eating and the writing! 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Thane's April Foolery

I have started to go again to Thane Prince's Cook Book Club - hurray!!

I missed it so much, but after a rather nasty accident on the way back in November, I had decided not to drive at night until the summer (if at all...) and didn't fancy public transport to Islington during the winter. But Spring has started to spring, and the nights are longer, so I'm back!

If you don't know about Thane's fabulous Cook Book club, it is in the first week of each month and is held at The Draper's Arms in Islington. We bring food to share, books to read from and talk about, and mouths to natter with. A great time is always had by all. (You can find details each month on Facebook and Twitter:  @TPCookBookClub on Twitter, with both a public page and a members only group (for the people who regularly come to the club)  for information on Facebook.)

April was held on April 1st, so what better theme than foolery? To be interpreted as loosely as anyone could wish.  

We were a relatively small group this time (the numbers vary dramatically depending on what is happening in everyone's lives) but small is beautiful. The food and people certainly were :D .

There were more people , and more food, but by then I was in nattering mode.. which is why you go to a club isn't it!!  So hello Kate and Naomi! and thank you all for welcoming me back as your prodigal daughter :)