Archive for September, 2010

Recipe For Traditional Gingerbread

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010
A Slice Of Homemade Gingerbread

A Slice Of Homemade Gingerbread

I seem to be on a journey that includes loads of different traditional British cakes, which noone at home is complaining about at all.  Perhaps, it is the nostalgic air of early autumn creeping into the air.

What is great about these sorts of cakes are that they get better with a bit of ageing, so there is none of this lightness that morphs into dryness overnight.  There’s also an old fashioned solidity to them that makes them a meal in their own right rather than a light, frolicky piece of fancy that seems to be just a burst of sweetness without any substance.

They all make an interesting use of spice flavours and work well with different types of liquid.  In this gingerbread recipe that I have been playing with, I use buttermilk which imparts a richness to the gingerbread that milk does not quite match.  And while there is definitely some ginger taste in this cake, it is not overpowering and is balanced by the sweetness of the cinnamon powder (note: cinnamon not cassia or baker’s cinnamon), while the molasses flavours from the black treacle and muscovado are kept down through using relatively little treacle and a light muscovado rather than a dark one.  You can tweak these quantities and ingredients to suit your household’s tastes – these match our own as Jay really loves this cake.

I, also, recommend wrapping up the cake and leaving it for a day as the cake becomes moister, which is much tastier and the texture is more correct than eating it fresh from the oven.

How To Make Traditional Gingerbread

280g / 10 oz / 2½ cups organic plain flour (I am using Gilchester’s white flour at the moment)
2tsp organic ginger powder
1½tsp baking powder
¾tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾tsp organic cinnamon powder
125g / 4½ oz / generous ½ cup light muscovado sugar
115g / 4 oz / ½ cup butter (lightly salted is fine)
125g / 4½ oz / scant ½ cup golden syrup (corn syrup)
50g / 2 oz / 3tbsp black treacle
200ml / 7fl oz / 7/8 cup buttermilk (or full fat milk)
1 large sized egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten

Set the oven to 160C / 325F.  Line a large loaf tin with baking parchment (dimensions: 12 x 19cm; 4½ x 7½ inches).

Sieve the plain flour, ginger, cinnamon powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together into a large mixing bowl.

Sieve Together The Flour And Spices

Sieve Together The Flour And Spices

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a pan, then add the golden syrup, muscovado sugar and black treacle to this and warm over a gentle heat until the sugar has melted.

Butter, Sugars And Sweet Things

Butter, Sugars And Sweet Things

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the sugars.  Mix it all up with a silicone spatula or hand whisk.  Add the buttermilk and egg and mix up thoroughly. 

Mix Together The Wet And Dry Ingredients

Mix Together The Wet And Dry Ingredients

Stir In The Buttermilk

Stir In The Buttermilk

Pour Ginger Batter Into Loaf Tin

Pour Ginger Batter Into Loaf Tin

Pour the ginger batter into the prepared loaf tin.  Put into the centre of the warmed oven and bake for about an hour.  As the hour comes up, start checking the gingerbread by gently pressing the top in the centre to feel whether it feels springy and spongy rather than liquidy; when done a skewer should come out without any dampness on it.

Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then turn out of loaf tin, remove the baking paper and allow to cool on a wire rack.  When cool, wrap in clingfilm and leave for a day before eating; you can start eating it straight away but this is really a cake that tastes better the day afterwards. 

Homemade Gingerbread Cooling Down

Homemade Gingerbread Cooling Down

Enjoy on its own or spread with a generous coating of good butter.  Delicious and so, so easy.

Apples, Bloody Apples And An Apple Cake Recipe

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

We only have three apple trees in our garden, but they have been massively fruitful this year.  In fact, they have produced so many apples I cannot even hope to use them all, even with friends and family taking them.  Nature has been so very fecund that even the quince bush outside of our front door has fruited; in the last 10 years, I reckon we have had had one quince on the bush in total, whereas this year there are seven.  It must be nature’s response to two harsh winters – up the reproduction and spread more seeds to survive.

Fruitful Apple Trees In Garden

Fruitful Apple Trees In Garden

Apples Picked From the Garden

Apples Picked From the Garden

Windfall Chutney 2010

Windfall Chutney 2010

So over the last two weekends, we have peeled for hours, then: picked and stored the eaters for later this year rather than chomp on out-of-season, flown in fruits from some high street chain; made apple puree, which has been frozen to lighten the fruitless days in the depths of winter; eaten baked apples using up leftover mincemeat for last Christmas that is now gorgeously matured and very boozy; made two types of chutney – General Gordon’s chutney and Windfall Chutney; and still made no dent in the apple harvest.

I love the plenty of harvest time, but I hate to see the waste when there is such an excess, while I know that in February/March I will be longing for fresh fruit in the knowledge that I was so wasteful in September.  And we have so little fresh fruit in this part of Northern England.

I have, also, cobbled together several different versions of apple cake, which both have a charmingly spiced, old world flavour to them.

Apple Puree Cake

Apple Puree Cake

Apple Puree Cake

Ingredients:

175g / 6 oz / 1 cup apple puree – cooking apples, stewed, pureed then sieved
110g / 4 oz / 2/3 cup sultanas
1tbsp currants
1 mug strong black tea (optional)
200g / 7 oz / 1 cup Fairtrade organic caster sugar
225g / 8 oz / 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly whisked
340g / 12 oz  / 3 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of sea salt
½ tsp nutmeg powder
½ tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.  Prepare a 22cm / 9 inch cake tin by lightly buttering it and lining the base.

If you have not got any pre-made apple puree, peel some cooking apples then core and quarter them (weight will be more than the 175g / 6 oz but you can eat the balance with some sugar, while cooking the rest of the cake).  Place in a pan and put lid on; heat under a medium heat until hot, then reduce heat to a low heat and let the apples stew until soft.  Squash them through a sieve to give you your apple puree.

This next bit is optional and involves preparing the dried fruit.  I put the dried fruit into a pan, then brewed a strong mug of black tea.  The black tea was then poured over the fruit and I boiled the fruit for about 10 minutes until nice and plump.  Sieve off the excess tea and leave to cool.  You can ignore this stage and simply use the dried fruit, but I like doing this as it reduces that jaw-aching, chewiness of dried fruit, while adding another flavour dimension to your baking.

Sieve together the organic plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sea salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Cream together the butter and caster sugar.  Add the eggs – half at first, followed by a tablespoon of the flour mix, then add the remainder.  Now add in the cooled apple puree and mix thoroughly.  Add the rest of the flour mix and mix together.  Finally add the sultanas and currants and make sure it is mixed well.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 50 minutes.  Towards the end start checking the consistency of the cake, by gently touching the top and feeling whether it is springy rather than liquidy.  If it is cooking too slowly reduce the temperature to 160C / 320F and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes.

Leave to cool in tin for about 5 minutes, then remove from the cake tin and let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the second apple cake recipe, this will be in my next blog…

Sunrise Walk For St Michael’s Hospice

Sunday, September 26th, 2010
Sunrise Over Studley Roger Deer Park

Sunrise Over Studley Roger Deer Park

We’re off en famille this early in the morning – actually, far too early – for a sponsored Sunrise Walk for 6 miles from Sawley to Ripon Cathedral, raising money for St Michael’s Hospice.  St Michael’s Hospice is a local palliative care charity for people in the Harrogate region, offering end of life care regardless of illness, but with it being best known locally for those dying of cancer.  Our 9 year old son, Jay, was especially keen to do this walk, so our 7 year old daughter is having a sleepover with some friends, so we can get up and out this early in the morning.

[Rest written on our return]

At 5am this morning, it was pitch black and there were no cars on the roads, plus there is a cold bite to the air.  Jay kept on saying that being up this early just did not feel right, which is certainly correct from his point of view.  I do not know whether others have noticed, but the air definitely changed on Thursday last week and that wintry bite has crept into the atmosphere.  I really could do without another harsh winter like we have had for the last two years.

We arrived at Ripon Market Square and set off in coaches to Sawley where we registered along with 180 others in the village hall.  As always, everyone else was dressed for the occassion, all togged up in Goretex jackets, hats, gloves and walking sticks and special walking boots, whereas we came casually attired in normal weekend rig out and some trainers; our clothing seemed to suffice as we were not climbing the Matterhorn.  They reckon that the pledges had racked up about £11,000 in money that would go direct to patient care, which is really excellent.

Just after the sun had risen at 6.30, we set off from Sawley along country lanes, skirting round Fountains Abbey before cutting through the deer park at Studley Roger and into Ripon, finishing at Ripon Cathedral at between 8.30am.  At Ripon Cathedral, we were warmly greeted with bacon sarnies cooked by Anthony Sterne’s Appletons crew, then we went home to collapse.

Bacon Sandwiches From Appletons Butchers By Ripon Cathedral

Bacon Sandwiches From Appletons Butchers By Ripon Cathedral

The walk through the deer park at Studley Roger was beautiful.  The deer were out and about and there was a tremendous stag with massive antlers that seemed to watch our every move as we passed near his herd.  Unfortunately, I forgot my zoom lens so was unable to take any dramatic photos of the deer.

Recipe For Oven Cooked Smoky Barbecued Ribs

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

We love spare ribs at home and have started eating them even more recently.  It’s the primaeval joy of chomping on your food while holding it in your fingers; something our kids truly adore.  In these straightened times, it is also great to use one of those cheap cuts of meat to create a delicious and fun meal, especially using a recipe that is really simple; food really must be fun rather than prim, proper and stuffy and that is why it always tastes better at home or in someone else’s house rather than a restaurant (or at least in my opinion).

Oven Barbecued Ribs

Oven Barbecued Ribs

And now that the nights are drawing in and you realise that there was no real summer this year, so you hardly barbecued a single thing, your mind can drift and dream of what might have been.  So over the summer, I came across this cheat way of making Barbecue-Style Ribs in your oven at home by Harald McGee via the Smitten Kitchen blog.  It makes far superior homemade ribs compared to recipes by the likes of Nigella Lawson.

The key to this cheat way of making smoky barbecued spare ribs is the slow cooking, which softens up the meat and breaks down the connective tissue in between the ribs.  Also, it is in the barbecue rub which is a good balance between sweetness and salty savouriness, plus through another cheat you can add back in the smokiness by using some smoked paprika from Murcia in Spain or smoked sea salt like Maldon Sea Salt, Anglesey Sea Salt or Steenbergs smoked salt from Denmark.  This gives the illusion of hours spent slaving over a hot fire.

Other than that, this is a really forgiving meal – you can pretty much play around with the seasonings as much as you want, and tweak the cooking times to suit your day.  For example, as long as you keep a long bake, you can turn up the heat to 110C/230F and cook it all in 4 hours rather than 6 hours without much of an impact, or you could change some or all of the paprika for chilli, even ground or flaked chile chiloptle to get in some more smokiness and intense bursts of chile heat.

How To Make Oven Barbecued Ribs

This recipe has been adapted from one in the New York Times by Harald McGee in two articles (29/6/2010 and 30/6/2010).

1kg /2.5lb spare ribs, cut into 2 equal sections
75g / 2¾ oz / ½ cup dark brown muscovado sugar
1tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sea salt (you could use smoked salt here)
1 tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground star anise, or China 5 spice
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 pinch ground coriander

Preheat the oven to 95C / 200F.

Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together thoroughly.

Sugar And Spice For Spare Ribs

Sugar And Spice For Spare Ribs

Get two lengths of aluminium foil that are 3 times the length of the ribs as you are going to make this into 2 packets fully to enclose the spare ribs.  Place the ribs onto each piece of aluminium, centred horizontally but two-thirds of the way down vertically.

Cover the spare ribs throughly on all sides with the barbecue rub, rubbing in vigorously.

Ribs Rubbed With Spice Seasoning

Ribs Rubbed With Spice Seasoning

Now, make the aluminium foil into pouches: firstly, fold over vertically moving the ribs to ensure the ends meet, then fold the foil over a few times and flatten edges to give a good seal; secondly, fold the foil over lengthways once or twice (I like to do this twice as there always seems to be a small hole that gets into the foil, ruining the seal) and crimp the edges again to make a sealed pouch.  If you have got time, leave the ribs to marinade in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, otherwise move straight to the slow cooking part.

Ribs Wrapped In Aluminium Foil Pouch

Ribs Wrapped In Aluminium Foil Pouch

Place into preheated oven, then cook for 4 hours at 95C/200F, then turn down the temperature and cook for a further 2 hours at 80C/ 175F.

Remove from the oven, open the pouches, pour the sauce into a bowl.  Place the ribs onto a preheated serving plate and drizzle the sauce over the ribs and serve.

Barbecue Ribs Pouch Unwrapped

Barbecue Ribs Pouch Unwrapped

Recipe For Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

One of the classics of British cuisine is to poach pears in red wine or syrup.  As a variation on this, I sometimes create a sweet spicy syrup to poach the pears in, then reduce these to a thick, sweet sauce.  Recently, however, I have been thinking about how to use teas and infusions in my cooking, as well as the impact of different liquids such as beer versus wine and even different beers, to add extra depth to the flavour of your food without bringing in too much extra complexity.

That’s a rather geeky way of saying the liquids you use in cooking can alter subtly the flavour of the meal and they are something we all tend to ignore when cooking, focusing on the big ingredients like the meat or the vegetables or the mix of spices, then just pouring in tap water or “red wine” when we should be screaming hard or soft water, bottled water, fizzy and which red wine, wine from where, as it makes a huge difference.

So as an experiment, I brewed up a large pot of Red Chai Tea, which I make with an organic rooibos tea from South Africa and my own flavour combination of spices.  I left this to steep for a bit then filtered out the sweet, orangey-red tea that is coloured like an amazing African sunset.  Next, you add a mix of ginger powder, saffron and Madagascan vanilla and a light muscovado sugar to the tea; in my usual recipe, I add lemon zest but not here as there is lemongrass in the chai spice mix.  This is the base flavour for the pears and the sweet sauce, which you then use to poach some pears.

At this time of the year, pears are deliciously ripe but you can use this recipe even on the most flavourless brick of a pear in mid winter and get some flavour into them and soften them up, so it is good for your five-a-day.  The result are perfectly soft and succulent sweet pears in a sweet sauce that has a richly luxuriant saffron-vanilla flavour.  Sometimes, I finish my normal versions of this recipe with a vanilla whipped cream, but that really is almost too decadent and I did not have any cream the other night.  Eating with a knife and fork, the knife just glides through the soft flesh of the pear and the taste is heavenly with the characteristic sweetness of the pears perfectly offset by the chocolately, creaminess of the vanilla.

It does take a bit of time to make, but not much effort.  And simple is often the best thing in life.

How To Make Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

4 pears (choose the nicest you can find, but they should still be hard)
500ml normally brewed rooibos tea or Red Chai tea
125g Fairtrade light muscovado sugar
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod
½ pinch organic saffron
¼ tsp organic Fairtrade ginger
125ml double or whipping cream (optional)
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod (optional)

Peel the pears leaving the stalk, then cut a small slice off the base of the pear to enable them to stand upright in the pan and on the plate.  Find a heavy bottomed pan that is tall enough to accomodate the full height of the pears with the pan lid over the top.  Leave the pears on a plate to the side for the moment.

In a family sized tea pot, brew the rooibos tea.  It is best to use loose leaf tea as the tea bag imparts a dusty, foisty flavour to the tea, but a teabag will do for convenience.  Brew as normal based on equivalent of 1 teaspoon per person so that is 4 heaped teaspoons into the pot, using freshly drawn water that has been brought to the boil, then steeped for 5 minutes; strain and pour into the pan.

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Add the light muscovado sugar, saffron and ginger.  For the vanilla, slice this lengthways and scrape out the vanilla seeds into the rooibos tea, then place the whole bean into the liquid for good measure.

Place the pears upright into the pan, put the lid carefully over the pears slightly off the rim.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and poach for 45 minutes until the pears are perfectly soft; you may need to adjust the cooking time depending on the ripeness of the pears.  Take the pears out of the sauce, put on a plate and leave to cool fully.

Strain the sugar syrup to remove the saffron and any bits.  Return the pan to the hob and heat to a vigorous boil and reduce the syrup to about 150ml.  Leave the syrup to cool.

To make the vanilla cream: pour 125ml of cream into a bowl; slice a vanilla bean lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream; using an electric or hand whisk, whisk to a thick, whipped cream.  Place in fridge while the pears and sauce are cooling to allow the vanilla flavours to infuse the cream.

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Place the pears onto individual plates and pour over some of the sauce.  Add a tablespoon of vanilla whipped cream on the side of each plate.

Simpler Venison Casserole Recipe

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Having gone through the fuss and carry on of marinading venison in stock per the previous post, I wondered why you do not just make a stew in the normal way as you would for beef or lamb.  Also, I still had some of the Hornby Castle venison in the fridge that had been newly defrosted.

One of the issues I reckoned was the fact that venison is quite lean and so might dry out during a long slow cook.  I overcame that by frying up some chopped streaky bacon and using that as extra fat that would keep the venison moist throughout the cooking process.  Finally, to ensure a melt-in-your-mouth experience when eating, I still cooked the venison casserole for a decent and long time.

Another little trick that I used was to cook in beer.  It is cheaper than wine, feels much more genuinely British and local than wine and its flavour profile is much more subtle than the wham, bham, smack in the face of claret.  Beer often has a pleasant sweetness and spicy overtones that go really well with meat; in this case, I used a bottle of Innis & Gunn Original from Edinburgh, which suggests that it is a “smooth Scottish beer with hints of toffee, vanilla and oak”, plus it was not as thick and treacly as many full on real beers, with a paler hue that I felt would work well.

The end result was a delicious, succulent and meaty stew, full of meat that felt soft and velvety in the mouth.  Delicious and better than the marinaded version from earlier, plus a lot easier.

How to Make Axel’s Venison In Beer

675g / 1½lb diced venison, 3cm / 1 inch cubes
1tsp lard or butter
100g  / 3½oz streaky bacon, cut into 3cm / 1 inch long squares
1 dessertspoon sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely sliced
1 carrot, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme (from garden or 1 tsp dried thyme)
3 – 5 juniper berries, lightly crushed
3 black peppercorns
200ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup beef stock (once again I used a prepared beef stock from Truefoods)
75ml / 2¾ fl oz / ¼ cup light beer

Frying The Onions, Celery And carrots For Venison Casserole

Frying The Onions, Celery And carrots For Venison Casserole

Firstly, I cooked the streaky bacon in a small amount of lard in a frying pan until it was crispy, then transferred these to a heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish.  Then, I browned the venison in the same frying pan; when this was completed, all the venison, juices and fats were transferred to the casserole dish.

I wiped the frying pan clean, then added the sunflower oil and fried the onion pieces until translucent, which takes about 5 minutes under a low heat.  When translucent, I added the celery and carrot slices and fried it all for another 2 minutes.  After this, everything was transferred to the casserole pot.

All the rest of the ingredients were added into the casserole pot and stirred.  The stew was heated to boiling then the heat reduced to allow the sauce to bubble gently away with the lid off.  The casserole should be cooked like this for about 3 hours.  It should not dry out, but if needed top up with some more of the beer.

Casserole Before Being Cooked For 3 Hours

Casserole Before Being Cooked For 3 Hours

Venison Casserole Three Hours Later

Venison Casserole Three Hours Later

Serve the venison casserole with mashed potato and shredded cabbage.  I actually used a sweet potato-normal potato mash in the ratio of 1:3.

Venison Stewed In Beer

Venison Stewed In Beer

Recipes Using Venison From Hornby Castle

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

I bought some delicious venison steaks and diced venison the other day from Hornby Castle in North Yorkshire.  Since then, we have been experimenting with a couple of different casseroles, and have come up with two different ones – a traditional richly marinaded and cooked venison and a lighter and meatier venison stew in ale.

Roger and Julia Clutterbuck farm at Hornby Castle, which is one of those quintessentially English old country houses.  Hornby Castle dates back to the fourteenth century and has been rebuilt several times of the centuries including a major overhaul in the 1760s by John Carr.  The mediaeval St. Quintins Tower was knocked down in 1927 and the John Carr East Range was demolished in the 1930s.  The Clutterbucks bought the estate in the 1930s from the estate of the Duke of Leeds as that old English family slowly dissipated.

Hornby Castle is an 850 acre estate, comprising about 350 acres arable and the remainder grass.  On some of the grass, Roger introduced red deer and bison during 2004-5; these are processed as cuts of meat or into sausages, burgers and casseroles.  The venison is butchered by Yorkshire Game and Masham Sausages make their venison sausages, while Langthornes processes the bison and makes the burgers.  Julia is in charge of developing recipes and marketing the meat, which is a real hidden gem that more people simply just need to know about.

Truly enterprising executive chefs really should get this on to their radar screens, but while I suspect they will continue to miss out.  Anyone who can get to Hornby Castle should contact Julia Clutterbuck (01748 811 579 or email julia@parklandrange.co.uk) and get some of their bison and venison.  It is best to ring beforehand as there is no shop and it is a case of when it’s there, it’s there, so you cannot be guaranteed that what you are after is actually in their freezer.

I bought some venison recently to fry up as simple steaks and also some diced venison for a casserole.  The Haunch Steaks come vacuum packed in pairs; I purchased two packs to feed the four hungry Steenberg mouths at £5.32 and £4.94 at £21.46 per kilo.

I lightly seasoned the Haunch Steaks with salt and pepper, then fried them in sunflower oil for about 2 minutes on each side.  I put the cooked steaks in a warm oven, then fried off the juices in a couple of tablespoons of rosé wine thickened with a knob of unsalted butter.  This light rosé jus was drizzled over the venison steaks and served with new potatoes and steamed broccoli and fine beans.

Hornby Castle Venison Steaks

Hornby Castle Venison Steaks

Lightly Fried Venison Steaks

Lightly Fried Venison Steaks

Hornby Castle venison has a deliciously meaty flavour and a really succulent texture that has a good lean bite, without becoming to chewy.  Because the red deer is butchered at 18 to 24 months old, there is none of that overly strong gaminess and excess richness that often comes with venison and that can make it almost overpowering.  Jay loved it so much he has already asked me to make it again – we will see, but a meal the kids want more of is always a blessing.

This weekend, I made a Classic Venison Casserole.  This is quite a time consuming process involving overnight marinading of the venison in a lot of red wine (I used Hermitage 1995 – Cuvee Marquise de la Tourette which was a treat), followed by slowly cooking the venison in your oven for 3 hours.  The result is worth the effort – a classically, rich venison taste in a deep, dark and rich red wine sauce with meat that is so soft and delicate.  We ate it with a celeriac- potato mash and purple sprouting broccoli, which allows you to mop the delicious red wine sauce up in the mash, which gives you a lovely comforting feeling.

I have to admit, however, that the need to marinade the venison means it might put you off wanting to make this recipe regularly, while I find the concept of throwing away most of the marinade ingredients horribly wasteful, so I have also created a quicker and thrifty way to cook the venison.  But unlike what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says, the venison does not come out dry and pickled from the long marinade, or it did not for us; perhaps, this says more about the venison and wine that he used when he has tried marinading venison overnight.  I will explain my simpler venison casserole in my next blog post.

How to make Axel Steenbergs Classic Venison Casserole

Ingredients

900g/ 2lb diced venison

For the marinade

The rest

What to do

Cut the venison into 3cm (1 inch) cubes and place these into a dish.  Pour over the red wine, then add the rest of the ingredients for the marinade as you prepare them.  Give it all a good stir, cover, then leave overnight in the fridge or a cool place.

Marinading Venison In Red Wine, Vegetables And Spices

Marinading Venison In Red Wine, Vegetables And Spices

The next day, heat the oven to 170C/ 340F.   Next lift out the cubes of venison and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Strain the marinade and keep flavoured liquid to the side for later.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and brown the venison, a few at a time.  Put these into a casserole dish.  When you have finished browing the venison, pour half the marinade into the pan and scrape the pan to get all the fried pieces up and add this all to the casserole dish.

Browning The Venison In Frying Pan

Browning The Venison In Frying Pan

In a seperate pan, melt the butter and fry the onions and garlic until translucent and place into the casserole, then cook the mushrooms for two minutes before placing these into the casserole. Stir in the flour and cook for 30 seconds, slowly adding the marinade stirring to prevent any lumps forming.

Remove from the heat, then add the rest of the marinade and the stock and heat until boiling.  Add boiling stock to the casserole, then put in the redcurrant jelly and season with salt and black pepper.

Cover the casserole and cook for two hours, checking it does not dry out and in the last half an hour taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

Venison Casserole Hubbling Away

Venison Casserole Hubbling Away

When cooked, add chopped parsley and serve hot with mashed potatoes.

Traditional Venison Casserole

Traditional Venison Casserole

Recipe For Yorkshire Fruit Tea Bread

Friday, September 17th, 2010

We have always loved teabreads here at home like those made by Elizabeth Bothams of Whitby, but I reckoned that some of those homely, comforting cakes could not be too difficult to make.  So this weekend I set out to make a traditional Fruit Teabread, plus I wanted to have an experiment with cooking with tea.  Quite a lot of the English traditional cakes call for fruit to be laced with alcohol and soaked for a time, but couldn’t this be replaced with soaking in tea?

What I ended out with is a cross between a teabread and a Yorkshire brack, a lighter brack than maybe traditional but richer than a teabread.

Yorkshire Brack

Yorkshire Teabread

Firstly, the practical error, I used a loaf tin that was too small for the mixture, and will need to add an extra 30% to the quantities for the loaf tin, or use a smaller loaf tin; I think I have two little loaf tins hidden somewhere in the cellar.  Secondly, you could perhaps increase the amount of pepper used, but not by much as little of that flavour seemed to come through.  Thirdly, the tea used in this case was a Christmas Chai that we hand blend at our Ripon factory and was hanging over in our cupboard from last year, as I felt that its extra spiciness would add a mysterious hint of the exotic to the background flavour, but I am not sure that it was tastable (if that’s a genuine word).  Finally, I boiled the fruit in the tea, whereas most recipes suggest that you soak the fruit overnight, which is fine, however I never real know what I want to bake until the day has arrived, so I needed to speed up the process.

Otherwise the taste and texture were great, and it lasted for about 30 minutes without a complaint from anyone who tried it.  In fact, most came back for more, so it cannot have been half bad.

How to make Fruit Tea Bread

115g / 4oz / 2/3 cup sultanas
75g / 3oz / ½ cup raisins
40g / 1½ oz / 3tbsp currants
200ml / 7 fl oz / 7/8 cup strong black tea (2tbsp in 6 cup pot; try a chai for subtle differences)
1 pinch of ground black pepper, or lemon pepper
115g / 4oz / ½ cup soft brown sugar
180g / 7oz / 1½ cups plain flour (I used Gilchesters strong white flour)
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Fairtrade cinnamon powder
½ tsp Fairtrade nutmeg powder
1 large egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
30g / 1oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled to touch warm

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Place the dried fruit into a small saucepan, then add the strong tea, heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the fruit has plumped up.  Leave to cool in the pan.  When cool strain away any excess liquid, add the pinch of ground pepper, stir the fruit around and try and coat most of the fruit.  Stir in the sugar and leave to the side.

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Sieve together the plain flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg powders.  Make a well in the centre of the flour, then add in the egg and stir thoroughly with a spatula.  Add the melted butter and stir until you have a soft dough.  Add the sugar coated fruits and throughly beat together with the silicone spatula.

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tip the fruit cake mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Bake for 1 hour, remove from the oven then leave to stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, before turning out and leaving to cool on wire rack.  You do not need to leave this to cool down completely as it is lovely eaten warm.

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Serve on its own or spread with butter.

Vanilla – A Beautiful And Sensual Spice

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Vanilla comes from the vanilla orchid, called Vanilla planifolia, which is native to Mexico, but is now indigenous in many tropical parts of the world, for example Madagascar and surrounding islands.  There is a second vanilla orchid called Vanilla tahitensis, which is native to Tahiti and Papua New Guinea, and has a slightly different flavour profile.  The vanilla orchid flower is a pretty, delicate light green colour.
Vanilla Orchid Flower

Vanilla Orchid Flower

In the wild, vanilla flowers are pollinated by the melipona bee, whereas outside of Mexico, it is pollinated by hand with a small wooden skewer to move the male pollen to the female stigma.  This process is sometimes called la marriage de vanille, or fécondation.
Fertilising The Vanilla Flowers

Fertilising The Vanilla Flowers

It is then a long careful process to tend the vines as they trail along little wires from post to post.  This tending period takes about 9 months.

Tending The Vanilla Vine

Tending The Vanilla Vine

Green Vanilla On The Vine

Green Vanilla On The Vine

After about 9 months, the green vanilla beans are picked and taken to the nearest vanilla processing centre.  At this stage, the vanilla beans looks like French or runner beans.  The first thing to do is to “kill” the beans, which basically denatures the enzymes that would simply make the vanilla rot, but allows the enzymes that result in the curing process to start.

Killing The Green Vanilla Beans

Killing The Green Vanilla Beans

The curing process then takes  several weeks before the raw green beans have turned a deep, dark brown. The pods are laid out on mats in the sun to heat up for the hoursduring the day, where the workers handle the beans and turn them over.  Late in the afternoon, the baking hot beans are collected and wrapped in blankets and straw mats, then placed into air-tight wooden containers to “sweat” overnight.

Collecting Vanilla Beans For Sweating

Collecting Vanilla Beans For Sweating

The head curer checks the progress of the curing every day and assesses when the time is right to stop this curing stage.

Checking On Curing Process In Karnataka In Southern India

Checking On Curing Process In Karnataka In Southern India

Quality Control On Curing Vanilla Beans In Madagascar

Quality Control On Curing Vanilla Beans In Madagascar

The next stage is the conditioning phase when the vanilla pods are held in storage for 3 months to let the flavours develop and run through.  During this conditioning stage, the beans are handled regularly, softening and shaping them – in the Madagascar, they roll the beans between their fingers and so resulting in a rounded shape, while in India, they tend to flatten them between their fingers giving a flatter, longer shape.

Madagascan Vanilla With Their Individual Markings

Madagascan Vanilla With Their Individual Markings

Should We Encourage People From Countryside To Cities?

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

…Self doubt gets you thinking.  I am still thinking through my concerns about Fairtrade and I wonder whether I’ve got it arse over tip. 

People who live in the countryside are relatively poor compared to people who live in an urban environment, but is that because there are, firstly, too many people in the countryside trying to eke out an incremental profit from cash crops to keep themselves above water, and secondly you actually are richer and better off just by being in a city or town. 

There is a strong argument that workers shifting from rural Amazonia and moving to Manaus (the regional capital of the Amazon region) to carry out industrial activity have taken farmers out of Amazonia and so reduced pressure on deforestation, allowing those remaining in the countryside to farm more efficiently and spread their profits across fewer people, while simply the act of going to a city has improved their personal finances.  So rural-to-urban migration is good for everyone financially and great for the environment! 

There is a strong case (and made by people much cleverer and knowledgeable than me) that people living in the slums of big cities and the favelas of Latin America are one of the most dynamic and happening economies of the world.  These are people getting on with life, generating income and stepping up out of poverty.  These places are not the pits of despair that we all once thought and continue to be taught.  Okay, they’re not perfect but they’re significantly better than rural poverty.  And city dwellers have less children, so women are liberated from their historical rural position as child-bearing machines that must cook, fetch water and bring up children.  City life gives them freedom and the creative energy of the fairer sex is a massive force for good and economic improvement.

So should we be encouraging rural-to-urban migration rather than preserving current rural farming structures.  Urban living is better for the environment as it is more efficient on the world’s resources.  Urban living is better for women.  Urban living reduces overpopulation as people living in towns and cities have less children – overpopulation is effectively a rural problem.  Finally, when people move to the city it reduces the amount of people living in the countryside and so reduces the burden from humanity on the countryside and nature quickly recovers – yes, the rainforest does just simply regrow when people leave it be. 

Lastly, is our nostalgic lova affair with the countryside and rural idyll and farming (I don’t know if it is just an English obsession, and I mean English in this case as I cannot speak for others here) simply wrong and something that just makes us look via rose tinted glasses at all rural farming, believing that this must be a great, wonderful and rewarding life for everyone in the countryside, rather than something most farmers just want to escape from, and be liberated from the back-breaking, never-ending drudgery of subsistence living and would rather become housekeepers, labourers, doctors and accountants or whatever is available in the nearest mega-city.  Who are we in the developed world to deny those in the developing world from wanting to live a better life with loads more consumer stuff to ease their daily grind?  Who are we (the great polluters and destroyers of the world) to deny the rural poor a new start and free women from the potential prison of a rural life?

I suppose what I am saying is that if farmers cannot make a living wage from growing sugar or tea or vanilla or fruits or rice, shouldn’t we encourage more of them to move to cities so then less people grow these crops, so then there is a relative shortage of supply over demand and then prices will go up until farmers can then earn a living wage or more.  Are we not just perpetuating an imbalance of excess supply over actual demand by offering a bit above market prices via Fairtrade?

In stark figures, a rural farming family in Madagascar earns $600 per annum, with Fairtrade vanilla they can earn $2000 per annum, but what could they earn were they to live and work in the capital city of, for example, Madagascar – Antananarivo – and perhaps their family size might also fall*.  So isn’t it better to get them to migrate to the cities where education and public services are better and they will have a lower impact on the environment?

I honestly don’t know the answer, but it remains a dilemma that is constantly fighting itself out between my heart that says “yes to fair trade and ethical food” and my head that says “yes to free trade” and reducing levels of rural farming and shifting population towards the cities.

As in everything in life, the answer I suggest is a fudge – we need to trade ethically to ensure that those farming now are not disadvantaged and abused hence Fairtrade, while at the same time providing incentives for people to move from the villages and rural economy into the nearest cities, and then to ensure that cities become as economically vibrant, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable as possible.  But I will probably never answer this quandary to my own personal satisfaction, so will remain racked by doubts and indecision.

* I asked The Foreign Office and World Bank for help on numbers here, but the former could not help and the latter never deigned to answer or acknowledge my request.  That is a worrying starting position for Madagascar.