Sunday, 18 October 2015

Spiced Quince Jam

Our lovely next-door neighbours, Jack and Peggy (Jack, in his 80s, is a toy boy, the saucy old seadog), have got this quince tree in their front garden and every autumn I've been amazed at the sheer abundance of fruit it produces. Then, after a couple of weeks of watching said fruit drop to the ground and slowly rot to a pulpy mess, it is quickly forgotten as thoughts turn to Halloween and beyond that to Christmas. But not this year. Oh no, this year I snaffled the lot. Yes, every single fruit (with J&P's permission, of course, and in exchange for a jar of raspberry jam and promise or further preserves to come).

I'm gonna be honest, I might have bitten off more of the bitter fruit than I can chew. I have a lot of quinces. My first foray into quince jam (below) used 3lbs of them, yielding four jars and enough left-over juice for three more. The dent into my bag was tiny. I fear that friends and colleagues are going to be politely thanking me for yet another jar of quince jam for weeks to come – and then heading to the nearest Google to find out just what the hell it is they are holding in their hand like a live grenade.

Well let me save them the bother. Put simply, a quince is a member of the apple and pear family and indeed looks like the bastard child of the two. However, if you're unfortunate enough to bite into a raw one (and still have your teeth intact beyond its rather firm flesh) you'll soon realise that this is a bastard child with ginger hair and a stutter. Its intense bitterness is enough to make your mouth shrivel up faster than a wicked witch in a rainstorm. It's no surprise that they're about as rare in your local Sainsbury's as a northerner happily paying 5p for a plastic bag.

What is immediately pleasing about the quince, though, is the fragrance: honeyed, perfumed and, well, surprisingly pleasant. Despite the sharpness, you just know that if you introduce these bitter buggers to a little sugar, ok, a lot of sugar, then you're going to be onto a winner. The recipe I have used adds some great Christmasy spices to complement the fruit, with the result being a delicious, rich-coloured jam that would be equally good as an ingredient for sweet or savoury. My god, it's good with cheese and crackers, and I think would be great to use instead of marmelade when smothering a ham before baking.

If you can source some quince, I urge you to give this go. If not, drop me a line and I'll send you a jar or six...

3lbs quince, washed, stalks removed, cut into eight
4 cups granulated sugar
zest and juice of 1 small orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamon

1. Add the quince pieces, skins, cores and pips and all, to a large pan. Cover with water so the quince floats. Bring to a boil, cover then gently simmer for three hours until the fruit is soft.
2. Strain the juice in fine sieve, squashing the soft fruit to extract as much as possible.
3. Return 6 cups of the juice to a clean pan, add the sugar, orange, lemon and spices, and bring to a boil. Any remaining juice can be frozen and used for another batch.
4. Place a small plate in the freezer.
5. After boiling for 20 minutes the liquid will start to look dark and syrupy. To check it is the right consistency, remove the cold plate from the freezer. Add a tsp of the liquid and freeze for 1 minute.
6. To check if the jam is ready, remove the plate and push the jam with your finger. If it wrinkles then the jam is ready. If not, return plate to freezer and continuing boiling the quince for another 5 minutes before checking again. This can take 40 minutes or more for the jam to be ready.
7. Cool slightly, add a small knob of butter to remove any "scum" that might have formed on the surface and remove any peel, cardamon and cloves. Fill sterilised jars and allow to cool before sealing.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Steak and Kidney Pie with Iron Maiden Ale


I might have mentioned once or twice before that I bloody love pies. I also love real ale, but have yet to enter that smelly jumper and socks and sandals stage (although it's there thumbing its CAMRA good pub guide just over my shoulder). I'm also a big fan of Iron Maiden – the seminal British heavy metalists, not the medieval torture device. So what better way to celebrate the release of their latest album, Book of Souls – the 15th in their long and brilliant history – than with a meaty steak and kidney pie with Iron Maiden ale. Oh, didn't I mention that Iron Maiden also have their own beer, The Trooper, named after their Piece of Mind classic, brewed by the excellent Robinson's brewery in Stockport?
This will make one big pie to serve six, or, as pictured, three "sharing" pies. And when I say "sharing", I actually mean "touch my pie and I'll rip your bloody arms off"... Prepare the filling the day before for a richer flavour.

1kg beef skirt or stewing steak, cut into 4-5cm chunks
30g plain flour, well seasoned
300g lamb kidneys, cored and cut into chunks
1 bottle Iron Maiden's The Trooper (or similar ale)
1 onion, peeled and sliced
350g button mushrooms, quartered
1tbsp tomato purée
1tsp English mustard
1 bay leaf
400ml beef stock
salt and pepper

For the rough puff pastry
400g plain flour
pinch salt
200g butter, chilled and cubed
200g water, chilled

1. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Toss the beef in the flour and fry in batches. When brown all over, transfer to a large pan. Repeat with all beef and kidney, adding more oil if necessary.
2. Deglaze the pan with a third of the ale, scrapping off all the crusty bits of meat. Add to the pan.
3. Add more oil and soften the onion for a few minutes. Add to the pan.
4. Repeat with the mushrooms. Add to the pan with the purée, mustard and bay leaf. Add the stock and the remaining ale.
5. Bring to a boil, the gently simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally and until the beef is tender.
6. Check the seasoning then leave to cool, preferably overnight.
7. To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the cubed butter and bring together with up to 200ml of the chilled water.
8. Form into a rectangle and roll on a floured worktop to a long rectangle about 1cm thick. Fold toward you the top third, then fold up the bottom third to form book.
9. Rotate 90-degrees and repeat five times to build up the layers. Chill for at least one hour.
10. When readyto cook the pie, heat the oven to 190C/gas 5.
11. Remove pastry from the fridge and cut off one-third for the lid. Set aside. Lightly grease a 1.2lt pie dish. Roll out the bigger bit of pastry so it fits the dish with an overhang. Brush the rim with beaten egg.
11. Roll out the lid to fit. Crimp the edges and make a hole in the top.
12. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 50-60 minutes. Leave to stand for 15 minutes before serving with mash, veg and more Iron Maiden ale.

Top three tenuous Iron Maiden/cooking songs:
1. Aces Pie
2. Bun to the Hills
3. Thyme of the Ancient Marriner

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas and Jalapeno Flatbread

Why isn't Caribbean food more of "a thing" in this country? Among the diverse cultural cuisines that have enriched this country over the past 50 to 60 years, Caribbean cooking seems to be disproportionately under-represented. Visit any town in the UK and you won't have any trouble encountering the ubiquitous Indian, Chinese and kebab takeaways. Delve a little deeper and you will likely find an Italian or pizzeria, possibly a Mexican, a tapas bar, piri-piri chicken or even a rib-shack with its Deep South smoky flavours. But where is the goat curry and jerk chicken? Unless you visit an area with a strong Caribbean community – Brixton immediately comes to mind in my recent experience – the tastes of Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad et al are largely absent on British streets.
Things may be changing at the numerous and excellent food markets that are appearing, where pop-up stalls selling Caribbean cuisine mix aromas with those of Vietnam and North Africa and Middle East. And, of course, the success of Levi Roots and his reggae, reggae sauces are a common sight on the shelves of every supermarket. But a successful chain of Caribbean restaurants that'll tap into the success of Nando's? Maybe it'll be the next trend.
Jerk chicken is best cooked over hot coals, but is equally as good in the oven and then browned off at the end for that crispy skin. If barbecuing, cook for 40 to 50 minutes over a medium heat, turning frequently. The method below is for an oven.

Ingredients (serves 4)
1tbsp allspice berries
1tbsp black peppercorns
1tbsp dried chilli flakes
1/2tbsp muscovado sugar
2tbsp runny honey
a few sprigs flat-leaf parsley
a few sprigs fresh coriander
2 scotch bonnet chillies
1 glove garlic
3cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
olive oil
4 chicken thighs, skin on
4 drumsticks, skin on

For the flatbreads:
250g self-raising flour
250g yoghurt
1/2tsp baking powder
1 jalapeno chilli, finely sliced

For the rice and peas:
50ml vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
300g long-grain rice
400ml water
400ml coconut milk
400g tin kidney beans, rinsed and drained
3tbsp fresh thyme
salt and pepper
fresh coriander to garnish

1. Pound the allspice berries, peppercorns and chilli flakes in a pestle and mortar, then add the sugar and honey.
2. Finely chop the herbs, chillies, garlic and ginger and add to the mix.
3. Add the green parts of the spring onion and a good drizzle of olive oil. Mix well.
4. Pour marinade over the chicken and thoroughly coat. Marinate in fridge for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
5. Heat an oven to 200C/gas 6 and cook the chicken for 25 to 30 minutes, finishing off in a grill pan for that charred, smoky effect.
6. For the flatbreads, mix the flour, yoghurt, baking powder and pinch of salt in a bowl. Knead on a lightly floured surface.
7. Divide into four pieces and roll each one into a circle about 2mm thick. Scatter over the jalapeño and push in.
8. Rub a grill pan with olive oil and cook the flatbreads for two to three minutes per side.
9. For the rice and peas heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onions until translucent.
10. Add the rice, stir well and add the water and coconut milk.
11. Bring to the boil and add the kidney beans and thyme. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked.
12. Season and garnish with coriander.