Monday, 27 July 2009

Jam Tarts: Mk I

So the apple cinnamon jelly went wrong! Those of you who follow my antics on twitter, facebook, LJ or even in real life (whatever that is!) will already have heard of my woes with the jelly. The chutney, various pickles, ketchups, marmalade and jams all came out beautifully. But that darn apple jelly, a recipe mum has made without a hitch for decade upon decade, went wrong.

But the thick, sticky accidental concoction tasted far too good to throw away so we've been racking our brains to think of a way to utilise it's wonderfully caramelised texture and flavour. My clever colleague, Jill, came up with my favourite solution: jam tarts!

Here's the first experimentation and I'm pleased to say that the caramelised apple cinnamon jelly is an absolutely perfect filling!

The pastry recipe we used needs work - more butter and more liquid to make it moister and more pliable. But I did really like the inclusion of orange zest, which adds a real zing to the tart case, so will be keeping that element of the recipe. (I happen to have about 6 tiny bags of orange zest in the freezer from oranges I zested before eating some months ago, and for which I've been seeking uses, so double happiness).

No recipe to share as the filling was an accident and the pastry needs reworking!


Saturday, 25 July 2009

Need more cow...

So, we unexpectedly had a boned forerib joint of beef on our hands! What to do? We popped half of it into the freezer and roasted the other half for an indulgent weeknight dinner.

With it we enjoyed potatoes harvested from the garden just minutes before cooking, a beautiful yellow courgette and two teeny tiny parsnips that were far too small to have been pulled! Oops!

Now, I have to be honest, I wasn't that excited about trying the boned joint. We switched to rib of beef for our roast dinners a couple of years ago when I finally got round to trying it and realised the hype was true - it's a truly marvellous cut of beef. And we buy it regularly from our local Waitrose. Waitrose has a pretty good reputation for the quality of it's meat so I just assumed the Abel & Cole version would be more of the same but for a higher price. It had really been the bone in joint I'd wanted to try as that's a cut I've not found easy to source locally and is reputed to be even better.

To my shock, the flavour of this beef absolutely blew me away. As soon as it came out of the oven I (as the Mrs Spratt of the family) sliced off some of the crisped fat. The orgasmic sounds started there and then! And all the way through the meal I just couldn't stop myself oohing and aahing and making delighted comments about how exceedingly good the meat was. I was so repetitive about it Pete near as damnit told me to shut the hell up! The texture was as good as it always is for this cut, and the moistness that results from the marbling of fat was evident too - so far so expected. But it was the flavour that was so unexpectedly fantastic. I cannot remember the last time I so enjoyed a piece of beef in any format or dish.

Some of you may assume that I'm being extra nice because of the free nature of this beef. Anyone who knows me in person knows I'm far too blunt for that! (And did you see my comment on the utterly manky carrots I received in my first free delivery?)

This beef genuinely left me gobsmacked. Before we ate it, I was curious about how it could possibly justify it's £26 price tag. Now I'm thinking about how far in advance I should order for Christmas Day! Yeah, really!

Oh and our first home-grown roasties were delicious too as was the courgette. It had grown so much in the last couple of days before we harvested it that I'd worried it may have gone too far towards bland marrowhood but it was sweet and flavoursome and a great foil to the beef. The parsnips didn't taste of anything much and I'm hoping another few months underground will turn them into something more special.


Thursday, 23 July 2009

Chutney, Pickle, Jam, Jelly, Marmalade, Ketchup!

Some of you may know I've been working on produce for my day manning a stall of my own on the Real Food Market at Covent Garden (27th August).

These pictures are just a small selection from two marathon sessions up at my parents' house in Luton. Thank goodness for my mum and my cousin, who shared the heavy workload!

Spicy Tomato Ketchup

Apple and Sultana Chutney

Tamarind ketchup - it took so long to hand squeeze that sauce mum's pouring from the tamarind blocks soaked in water - ouch!

Apple jelly - well it was back then; now it's caramelised chewiness!

Chilli and ginger pickle

Lemon Pickle

A different chilli pickle

My favourite of the lot - nectarine and amaretto jam


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Sumac, Garlic & Coriander Lamb

(Skip to the end for the recipe)

Being invited to review Abel & Cole organic meat deliveries

When Abel & Cole's PR contacted me about reviewing their products several weeks ago, I mentioned that I would be much more interested in reviewing their organic meat than the fruit and vegetables.

We'd trialled a Well Thrifty Box from the Well Hung Meat Company some weeks previously (which I really ought to summarise in a separate blog post at some point) and have been investigating other suppliers too. Ideally we'd like to try a few alternatives before a) working out which one we like best for quality, money and service and b) whether any of the options beat popping to Waitrose (2 minutes walk from our house) and buying what we need as we want it.

Their first delivery contained a mixed fruit and veg box, the contents of which were very inconsistent in quality, plus an organic chicken; a beautiful bird - plump, firm meat which, when cooked, retained both moisture and a firm texture and tasted wonderful.

So I was delighted when I was offered further meat products to assess and review.

Problems with the delivery

Friday's delivery was duly arranged to include an boneless half leg of lamb and a bone in forerib joint of beef. I'd specifically mentioned that I'd like to try a bone in beef joint as this is something I find hard to source in local shops (Waitrose included) and would be interested in ordering online if it proves to be as good as I hear and read. So I was particularly pleased that Abel & Cole were generous enough to include it in my second delivery.

The meat arrived in the usual polystyrene box, wrapped in plastic and surrounded by ice-packs. Opening any deliveries that arrive by post is always a little like Christmas for me - even when I'm expecting the package and know just what's inside.

Lamb? Tick! A fine looking piece of meat. Perfect for the family BBQ at my parents' home on Sunday.

Beef? Oh no! Instead of the bone in joint, we find a boneless forerib instead. Scratch the plan to make stock from the bones!

Quickly, we check the paperwork. The receipt confirms that the order was placed correctly for boneless lamb and bone in beef. Looking at the beef itself, the label clearly reads Boned Forerib. I scramble onto the A & C website and notice an odd thing - firstly, although the text on the packet reads Boned Forerib, the product code, in slightly larger text, is the code for the bone in joint we expected. And what's more A & C don't even list a boned forerib joint!

I drop a note to the PR and marketing ladies and explain the mistake. "Exactly how would your customer services team respond to this mistake for a regular, paying customer", I ask? "I'm reviewing not just the product but your full service", after all.

The issue is passed across to Greg in Customer Services and the response I get is a good one: The letter starts with a sincere apology, a full refund for the beef joint and some information about how feedback on mistakes feeds back into the process and helps them to reduce repetition of such errors going forward. Chris goes on to make the following offer:

"I can't apologise enough for the inconvenience this has caused you and in the light of the problems you've experienced previously I would be more than happy to offer you the Forerib Joint, Bone In (1.5kg avg) free of charge next week should this be convenient for you. I would also hope you might be able to use the boned and rolled joint you have received in error as we would be happy for you to keep the item without charge. If it is no longer convenient for you to receive the beef joint we could always arrange to send you a free bottle of wine or olive oil as an apology instead."

The problem for me lies in the inconsistency - having made meal plans based on what one has ordered, it's very frustrating to receive something different (or of unusable quality) and have to juggle those plans at the last minute. Of course, A & C's generous attitude when putting mistakes right absolutely takes the edge off that frustration - after all, the upshot is that the customer receives two (very expensive, in this case) items for free - but it doesn't change the fact that they're not getting it right in the first place.

On one hand, their genuine warmth and desire to make amends when reacting to mistakes is commendable. On the other hand, it's disheartening to see that the quality control issues that plagued them some years ago are still prevalent.

It's all about the sumac!

I earmarked the lamb for a family BBQ at my parents' house long before it arrived. As I'd already promised that I'd be bringing and preparing it, I was relieved it was the beef and not the lamb that had been mixed up.

But what preparation for the lamb would suit being cooked on a BBQ and also work well with the loosely Indian-themed dishes mum had planned? I was stumped and asked for advice on food chat boards and from the twitter food blogger community.

Sumac seems to be one of the flavours of the moment and was recommended by quite a few folks so I plumped for a sumac-based marinade suggested by fellow food blogger, Gillthepainter, though I decided against the almond yoghurt sauce she made as an accompaniment.

I've never cooked with sumac before and actually had no idea what flavour it would give. Luckily, I did know where to find some as a small Iranian and Mediterranean shop has very recently opened just around the corner from us!

I blitzed the sumac with garlic, ground coriander seeds, olive oil and seasoning and rubbed and squished the resulting paste over and into my lamb, which I left to marinate in the fridge overnight.

In the event, the skies opened with a monsoon-like deluge and we switched to an indoor feast.

Honestly, I can't remember how long we roasted the lamb for - there was so much going on - but it was cooked just as I'd wanted - nicely brown on the outside with one end cooked medium and the other medium rare.

The lamb was absolutely lovely. Tender, moist, firm meat with a lovely flavour - a beautiful piece of meat. The marinade succeeded in the difficult task of allowing the lamb to shine whilst serving up something a little different.

The sumac gives what I would describe as quite a subtle citrusy flavour - not what I was expecting at all. It worked well with the garlic and coriander seeds and gave a pretty pinky-red colour to the dish.

I was gratified to see guests go back not just for seconds but for thirds too, with a number of comments about how good the lamb meat was.


Saturday, 18 July 2009

Golden Yellow Courgettes

W'eve been harvesting more beautiful produce from the garden!

Despite the mildewy leaves, the courgette plants seem to be fruiting happily. We picked three beautiful specimens, leaving a number of smaller fruits to grow bigger.

As you can see,the three courgettes came to a whopping 828 grams and we used them, chopped, in a huge pan of Thai red curry with chicken thighs and peas. We made enough to freeze portions for 6 more meals for 2 plus the one we've already eaten.



Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Month of Peas

In June we thrilled to the taste of our (first ever) home-grown sugarsnap peas, enjoying good yields eaten raw in crunchy, flavoursome salads.

July will be the month of our (first ever) regular peas!

We've been growing our own vegetables for several years now and have been enjoying savoy cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, courgettes and sweetcorn for a long time. Each year we've increased not only the volume but the variety of what we sow. This year we've added the two varieties of peas not to mention parnsips. And it's only our second year for carrots, peppers and aubergines. Hopefully, I'll be able to share our harvest with you throughout the year, as well as some interesting recipes using all our produce!

On Monday evening, within minutes of my arriving home, Pete and I were out in the garden harvesting peas! We'd shared the peas from just one single pod a week previously and knew our peas were sweet and good!

Picking only a share of the many pods hanging pendulously on the plants, we returned indoors and started to shell. With superhuman willpower we resisted popping peas like candy as we shelled and I'm thus able to report that our first harvest provided us with a whopping 238 grams of beautiful peas!

I ate my share just as they were, unadorned and unadultered. Pete ate his portion lightly boiled with chocolate mint (from the garden) and butter.