Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Jams and Jellies - or is it Jam and Jerusalem?

The fruits of our labours
Well, it wasn't quite the Women's Institute but there were moments last weekend when I thought I'd passed over into that mythical land of being the perfect wife, mother and pillar of the community. 

But then reality flooded back and I realised it was just a blip on my otherwise blemished reputation.

Willow weaving for the village flower festival, watching friends in the talent show at the Church and dos-a-dos-ing round the marquee on the green. All very Midsomer Murders and, for afficionados of Miranda, such fun! 

And how did we fill the brief pauses between these bucolic activities? By making jam with friends, of course. 

Foraging for Elderflowers, bribing a troupe of small boys to pick more gooseberries and gathering rose petals...bit part in Darling Buds of May, anyone?

Of course, like all these escapades it was worth every moment to have that exciting realisation that the jam has actually set and the jelly is wobbling invitingly.

So, here's the recipe for the Gooseberry & Elderflower Jam. Coming soon... Gooseberry, Elderflower and Rose Jelly. Yum! Can't wait.

Lovers' Knot - made with willow from the river and wild enthusiasm

Gooseberry & elderflower jam
Elderflowers, roses & a Cooking Gorgeous tea-towel

1kg gooseberries
1kg sugar
150ml water
15 elderflower heads
Old jam jars sterilised in the dishwasher and warmed through in the oven (so they don't crack when you add the hot jam)

Jam pan
Sugar thermometer
Small saucer in the freezer
Wax paper discs

Top and tail the gooseberries and cook them gently in 150ml of water in a large heavy bottomed jam pan. Pop the elderflower heads into the top of the pan - carefully shaking any insects off first. Leave the pan simmering gently for 10 or 15 minutes and remove the flower heads. Add the sugar, allowing it to melt softly into the water and then boil vigorously.

A sticky scum (urgh) will form unless you add a little knob of butter before it boils - or you can just skim off the scum with a slotted spoon.

And wait... until it reaches JAM on your thermometer.

At this point it's really easy to get over excited and decide it's done. BUT! Rush not! First, drop a little onto your ice cold saucer. If it forms a discernible skin that you can push gently with your finger then, and only then, is your jam ready for your jars.

If you haven't got a sugar thermometer and you plan to make jam again, then get one! Until then, you'll have to keep doing the saucer check - it will work.

Carefully spoon or pour the jam into your jars and top off with a wax paper disc and seal tightly. Leave to cool and wash off any sticky residue once the jam has set.

It's a snip

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


We've teamed up with the lovely Vanessa Kimbell and have one coveted copy of her fantastic new recipe book PREPPED! to give away.

Just leave a comment here on the Blog before 24 June to be in with a chance of winning!

Five things that make PREPPED! a "kitchen life saver" (as quoted by Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton).

  • The food is delicious and simple
  • The flavours are complex and sophisticated
  • It's written and tested by real people for real life
  • It means you can get out of the kitchen and enjoy the fun with everyone else 
  • Keeps washing up and clearing down to a minimum
We've been lucky enough to have posted one of Vanessa's fabulous recipes here on the Blog, Star Anise & Orange Bread Pudding, and can't wait to try out more of her delicious dishes. 

Three more things you might like to know...
  • PREPPED! is printed in the UK - an unusual feat in itself
  • Vanessa gave herself 12-months to write a recipe book - and held the first copy of PREPPED! almost exactly one year on from the day she started
  • Since discovering Cooking Gorgeous aprons, Vanessa will wear nothing else (not sure that's come out right but you know what we mean!)

Good luck!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Pasta Puttanesca-esque in 10 minutes

For those lovely moments when you open the fridge and think 'oh God, I really need to go shopping' and then realise... you don't. At least, not yet.


My lovely friend, Loo, was over for a chat that turned into lunch. With vague panic as I looked in the fridge I summoned up thoughts of Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, that delicious Italian dish so charmingly translated as 'whore's style spaghetti'. Yes, well.

Anyway, obviously I didn't have the ingredients for that either so instead I gathered together things I know work well and started boiling the water. 10 minutes later we sat down to my new creation, which I thought I should share. Loo loved it. Hope you do too.

What you need
  • Enough spaghetti for two people (this varies wildly in our house so I'm shy of specifying amounts)
  • 1 generous tbs tomato purée (I always thought this was a cheat ingredient but it turns out even proper chefs use it. Who knew?!)
  • 6-8 peppadew peppers roughly chopped (I use hot but mild ones work well)
  • 6-8 black olives roughly chopped (particularly good if you've got any marinated ones lurking at the back of the fridge)
  • 1 onion roughly chopped (there's a theme developing here) 
  • 1 clove of garlic (you guessed it) roughly chopped 
  • Toasted pine nuts / fresh basil (optional)

What you do
Start boiling the water for the pasta and get chopping. As soon as the water boils, add your spaghetti with a dash of oil to stop it sticking.

Sauté the onion in olive oil till it starts to soften. Add the garlic, give it a stir then add the tomatoe purée. You'll need to judge the next bit but pour in roughly half a cup of hot water to thin the purée and get it all simmering nicely. You might need a drop or two more, depending on how quickly it evaporates but be careful not to make it too thin.

Next, add the peppers and the olives. If you feel like it, pop in a sprinkling of Bouillon (or half a stock cube) and season to taste. Turn off the heat and throw in your pine nuts and basil.

The pasta should be pretty much al dente by this stage. Strain it but leave a trace of the liquor in the pan. Add the pasta to the sauce - do it this way round so you gather up all the intense flavours from the pan and fully coat the spaghetti. Stir it through and serve.