Orange Voddy

Oranges seem to be on 3 for 2 special offer at the moment so I have quite a lot. They are super juicy and tasty. As I like orange liqueur I thought it might be good try an orange voddy.

I’ve just prepared it now and its in the pantry doing its fruit voddy thing.

Here are the steps:

You can find my rules of thumb for fruit vodka making here.

Fennel harvest (and fennel crackers)

We’ve a huge fennel plant growing in our garden….we didn’t plant it I think it self seeded from next door. Anyway we kind of ignored it but now its time to tidy the garden so I decided to harvest the seeds before we up rooted it and find a few uses for them.

A bit of googling told me that they aren’t really seeds they are teeny fruits, and that instead of taking nice photos of ladybirds clambering over the yellow flowers earlier in the year I should have been harvesting the pollen as this is the most sought after part. I didn’t but I’ll know for next year.

I’m only part way through collected all the ‘seeds’ and I have tons so I’ve been searching for ideas of how to use them so far I’ve got the following to try:

– spelt and fennel bread from Scandilicious cookbook

– meatballs

– beany sausage casserole with some fennel added to the cooking sauce

– fennel shortbread

– fennel (and possibly pear) ice cream or sorbet

– toasted fennel seeds to snack on

– sprinkled on salads especially ones involving cheese

– torta aciete

– crackers for with cheese (I tried these yesterday see recipe at the end)

– scandi style vodka (of course)

– simple fresh cheese with fennel

And I’ve yet to properly explore the section on anise in The Flavour Thesaurus. Still I think it’s going to take rather a long time to use them all so I’ve promised some to Scandilicious (as she loves them an they are big in Scandi cooking) and some to Northcore Brewery so thye can play with how they work in beer.

All further suggestions for how to use them welcome. Many thanks to the following tweeters for the list so far:

@scandilicious @urbanfoodie_net @leafhsetherapy @rentaquill @jamsmithsclub

Fennel biscuits/crackers

I found this recipe for seedy crackers by Hugh FW on the Guardian. I thought it looked good so naturally I read it and erm then fiddled with it. This is what I did:

125g strong white flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

20ml EV rapeseed oil


I mixed all the dry ingredients together, I added the oil and stirred it in. I added water a tablespoon at a time until I got a softish dough. I reckon it took 60ml water. I kneaded it gently. I rolled it out in one big piece direct onto some non-stick foil and cut about half way through in strips to make rectangular biscuits. Into a pre heated oven at R3.5 (oven runs low) and baked for the supposed 5 minutes, and another and another…and in total it took 25 mins and I still don’t think it was quite cooked. But it tasted good especially with some salty pecorino or robust cheddar. I probably didn’t roll it thin enough and I guess 1 large piece takes longer to cook than lots of neat biscuits.

Verdict: good, no way the cooking time is 5 mins (perhaps in a giant bakery deck oven?!) definitely one to try again and play with flours maybe spelt or some oatmeal next time.


The fat of the land

This post was originally published in early November in Francois Murat Design newsletter. Although the apple season is pretty much at an end now many varieties store well so this is still a lovely dish to make over the coming cold months……

Autumn is well and truly here, the nights are drawing in, the weather is cooling day by day. Many of the fruits and vegetables are harvested. Those that can be have been turned into preserves of various kinds or carefully stored away to be used over the winter months.

Apples are still with us and there are varieties that are still being harvested during November but the main crop has been taking place throughout October and celebrated with Apple Day events across the country. Apple Day was started 20 years ago by Common Ground to help save and celebrate the huge range of English apples that were being lost bit by bit. In that time much progress has been made and varieties that were almost lost have been reintroduced. If you care about British food though there is still plenty to be done and attending an Apple Day event can be great fun for all the family with a chance to buy apples, press your own juices or simply learn more about orchards and the variety available. If you missed out this year then put a little reminder in your diary now to seek out apple events next October, and in the meantime support the growers by searching out interesting varieties or even sponsoring a tree at a community orchard project.

Autumn is not only a time for preserving fruit and vegetables its also the time when, traditionally, meat would be preserved in a variety of ways to see the household through winter and save on animal feeding costs. This is particularly true of the pig. In ‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ Jane Grigson says:

It could be said that European civilization – and Chinese civilization too – has been founded on the pig.’


Of course there are plenty who don’t eat pork and they would disagree with Grigson’s statement and her subsequent analysis. But for many it has been staple of cooking for centuries and the tradition of the autumn pig slaughter and subsequent preserving is well documented. Bacon is also often cited as the meat that vegetarian converts most miss but I’m not sure there is any real data to back this claim up. For those with strong constitutions I highly recommend Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay ‘It takes a Village to Kill a Pig’, not for the faint hearted, but fascinating not least because it was first published in American Vogue, not the sort of place you imagine happening on a detailed account of traditional pig slaughter in a Basque village. Preserving meat is not something I’ve tried although there are now quite few books and courses around on preserving the bounty of the pig and I know of a number of people who make their own sausages, bacon and salami at home. I’d recommend reading Tim Hayward (of The Guardian’s Word of Mouth) articles as a good starting point.

Now of course we can eat pork (and other meat) all year round if we want to. Whether it tastes its best or has been reared in a sustainable manner is of course open to much debate. It seems to make sense to eat less meat, reared in the best way possible and used sensibly. We can learn a lot from the seasons and the way people used to cook though of course we can’t go back to how they lived (and I doubt we would want to) but we can think more carefully about what we eat and when we eat it.

So eating pork at this time of year makes sense seasonally and pairing it with apples has a long heritage. Roast pork and apple sauce is a classic British dish with the apple sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. That’s the point of this combination the apple provides a counterpoint to the meat, so often missed with over sweetened commercial sauces. Apple jelly is wonderful with sausages, either on the side or as a glaze to create extra sticky sausages. If you don’t have your own apple jelly to hand then try one with a little kick of chilli for some added interest (Jules & Sharpies Sage & Apple Jelly is my current favourite) track down something local to you and support a local food business.

There’s a recipe I’ve been cooking for years that sprang to mind (from an early Delia Smith book) after I’d been to an Apple Day event at Copped Hall in Essex recently. I think it’s the first dish I cooked entirely on my own at home but I wanted to do it a bit differently this time and make it into an almost one-pot dish. It’s simple, pretty quick and of course tasty.

Creamy pork, apples, cider and potatoes

For 2 people you need:

  • 2 large pork chops on the bone
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 apple, I used an Egremont russet (my favourite apple just sharp enough and good firm flesh), cored and sliced but not peeled
  • ½ bottle cider, I used Aspalls Organic
  • small handful of fresh sage (about a tbsp when chopped)
  • ½ tub crème fraiche (100g)
  • 3-4 large potatoes cut into thin slices
  • salt & pepper
  • butter

What to do….

  1. Pre heat the oven to 190C/R5
  2. Put some butter in a frying pan and brown the chops, place then in a shallow casserole dish.
  3. If needed add a little extra butter and soften the onions for about 5 minutes over a low heat, add them to the pork chops.
  4. Fry the apple slices quickly and add to the casserole.
  5. Add the cider to the frying pan and bring to simmering then pour over the chops.
  6. Sprinkle the casserole with the chopped sage and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the crème fraiche and stir into the liquid
  8. Add the potato slices pushing them down into the creamy liquid.
  9. Cover and cook for 20 minutes then remove the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes.

The chops will be cooked but remain juicy, the potatoes will have absorbed some of the creamy liquid and cooked rather like daupinoise. Serve with a lightly steamed autumn vegetable to balance the creaminess, we had red cabbage.

Gluts of all types

It’s coming to the end of harvest time but everywhere you look there are gluts of produce to be turned into something delicious. Some to be eaten now, some to be saved for the winter months. Gardens and hedgerows are filled with bounty and will continue to provide opportunities to harvest interesting things until late October. You might have your own fruit trees providing you with an abundance of apples, pears, plums or damsons, too many beans, courgettes or unripe tomatoes. Maybe a neighbour has a surfeit they need to share. There’s sure to be produce by peoples gates either for free or very cheap. And of course you can go foraging in country lanes, in parks and open spaces, on moorland.

Whatever you find there’s plenty of ways to put it to good use: cakes, crumbles, pies and tarts for now, freezing and multiple ways of preserving for later…..compots, jams, chutneys, pickles, curds, vinegars, favoured gins or vodkas, fruit jellies and cheeses, cordials, wines and ales, ketchups and sauces. Almost too may choices.

First of all some rules of foraging:

  1. Be sure you are allowed to forage from the lane/park/open space you choose; land maybe protected or private, foraging isn’t just a free for all.
  2. Don’t strip plants bare, leave fruit for others and for the wildlife.
  3. Make sure you know what you have collected before using it as food.
  4. Only collect from areas where you are happy there won’t be contamination, so right next to a busy road might not be great.
  5. Always be considerate and sensible about where and how you forage.

The are some good books on foraging to help you know what you might find where and when and also for identification. Three that I particularly like are Food for Free by Richard Mabey (it comes is a tiny pocket size so is easy to carry with you); The Foragers Handbook by Miles Irving more a research book for at home, Miles also runs foraging courses (as do others); and the River Cottage Hedgerow Handbook by John Wright.

Most of what you’ll collect over the next two months will be fruits and berries of some description, but there could be end of season vegetables too from the garden. There’s mushrooms to be had of course but that’s a whole other topic. To decide what to do with whatever glut you have think about the following: how ripe is the fruit, how sweet or tart is it, how long is the season (is this the last for this year or might you be able to collect more), how much do you have? All of these things will influence what you might choose to do. If you have a small amount of ripe fruit then if its edible uncooked you’ll probably want to eat it as is with cream or yoghurt or perhaps made into a cake, pudding, tart or crumble. If you’ve a lot of something then you’ll need to preserve some for later use either as a jam, jelly, chutney, pickle or something. I tend to make pickles, chutneys and fruit vodkas because they are what I like but think of what is most likely to get eaten up before next years glut and also what people you know will appreciate as presents. If the fruit is less ripe then pickles and chutneys are a good choice as the sourness is part of the taste and can be balanced by the spices and sugar. Very under ripe fruit can be made into Indian style pickles (a bit like lime pickle), I’ve tried this with plums and green tomatoes and it works well with both.

There really are so many choices it’s hard to single out one recipe (but I’ve included lots of links this month for you). Good resources are River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin and The Jam, Preserves and Chutneys Handbook by Marguerite Patten. Both are excellent on basic techniques with plenty of recipes to try. Do remember that if you are making chutney or pickles then you need a non-reactive pan (i.e. not aluminium) and inevitably the vinegar evaporates so have the extractor on and close the kitchen door, the taste though, is worth it.

One thing I’m determined to try this year is drying fruit. I love the dried berries and apples in granola and muesli so I’m going to make my own. I’ll be following this method from a curious little book called They Can’t Ration These, written during WW2 by Vitcome de Maudit (and republished by Persephone) its fully of quirky ideas for foraging and cooking.

How to Dry Berries

Use only sound, unbruised fruit, wash, clean and drain the berries on wooden or iron sheets and place them in a very moderate oven (110F). Raise the heat gradually to 130F, then when the berries fail to stain the hand when pressed but are not so hard that they will rattle, take them out and store. The length of time for the drying varies with the kind of berries, but it is from 4 to 6 hours.

(Note: The temperatures quoted don’t seem to tally with any conversion charts I can find so I’m assuming that the oven should be on its lowest possible setting. This is part of the joy of old recipes.)

This article was first published as part of the series I write for Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter. If you want to get the article sooner then why not subscribe to the newsletter which also has features on gardening (including kitchen gardens) and interior design.

Mostly berries, some cherries and currants

At last the English fruit season has arrived. The gooseberries and strawberries are in full flow and the raspberries, cherries and currants (black, red and white) are all just starting to come into their prime. For all these fruits when the season starts and end is inevitably affected by the weather and where you are in the country, some have much longer natural seasons than others and making the best of each while you can is what its all about.

I like them fresh of course, or cooked in compotes, sauces and pies and some preserved to bring a little summer light into the autumn and winter. All these fruits are native to Britain in some form although the varieties we eat now hail from the experiments of plants-men across Europe and America. Cherries were being cultivated in Britain during the middle ages, gooseberries in the 15th century, black (and other) currants and raspberries in the 1600s. It seems that strawberries are very much the latecomers to the party only really becoming widely grown from the 19th century onwards.

I just can’t resist pinching a few cherries from the bowl each time I pass so they never last long enough to be made into anything, perhaps if I had a cherry tree I might manage to save a few for other things. This year I’m going to see if I can find enough (and not eat them all first) to try pickling some as I think they would be wonderful with a cooked ham in the depths of winter. And red, black or white currants are a tasty counterpoint to other fruits especially in summer pudding.

But truth be told its raspberries I love the most.

Fortunately the different varieties mean the season lasts from late June to Autumn. I have a theory that you are either a raspberry or a strawberry person at heart. Given a choice of both most people I know always plump for the same one, few dither, unsure as to which to have this time. Its not quite on the scale of a marmite love-hate thing but its there, strawberries OR raspberries is the way it seems to go. In Simply British Sybil Kapoor suggests raspberries are regarded with deep affection not adulation; I think she might be right.

Me, I’m a raspberry person through and through. The fresh fruit is better, the jam is better, better in tarts, just better. Faced with delicious, plump, wonderfully fragranced version of each raspberries always win and I’m happy to say no to strawberries even if there is no alternative. Their sweetness seems too saccharine, their texture odd; I like the slight tart edge and depth of flavour that even the sweetest raspberry has.

Although I’m not alone in this love of raspberries the majority seem to prefer strawberries seeing them as the perfect example of a British summer. The Johnny come lately to the table seems to have usurped the more historic fruit, with Bunyard musing in The Anatomy of Dessert why raspberries and cream are so much less popular than strawberries and cream. I suspect it’s that tart edge. He suggests a drop of champagne makes the raspberries more delicious. It might also be the connection raspberries have with use in tonics for the stomach and other ailments, but the old vinegar recipes I’ve found sound really refreshing as a drink and no comparison to the raspberry vinegar madness of nouvelle cuisine. And apparently made with malt vinegar it’s used to dress Yorkshire puddings!

Raspberry Vinegar

I love the wording of this early 1920’s recipe from Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll:

“Take 1 lb. raspberries to every pint of best white vinegar. Let it stand for a fortnight in a covered jar in a cool larder. Then strain without pressure, and to every pint put ¾ lb. white sugar. Boil 10 minutes, let cool, and bottle in nice-shaped medium-sized bottles saved perhaps from some present of foreign liqueurs or scent. A teaspoonful stirred into a tumbler of water with a  lump of ice, or introduced to a very cold siphon, will taste like the elixir of life on a hot day, and will be as pretty as it is pleasant.”

In my case I suspect its memory that holds the key to my love of raspberries….a walk, some French cricket then picking raspberries from my grandad’s raspberry patch and having then at tea with thick golden Jersey cream. It sounds all rather grand and Merchant Ivory but it wasn’t, it was suburban Liverpool in the 1980s, you can grow great raspberries plenty of places if you try. I’m sure we only ever had the raspberries with thick cream, simple and delicious, maybe occasionally my grandad made a flan with them, one of those classic sponge flan bases you could buy and probably a teeny bit of jelly to hold the whole thing together, but there was still always served with Jersey cream. It sounds so retro now, raspberry flan, I’m sure its time for a reinvention…..I’m hoping to perfect one for the blog soon but initial trials are hampered by the raspberries constantly going missing….someone here clearly has a deep affection for them!

This blog post was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates July Newsletter.

Elderflower rush

Its very nearly the end of the the elderflowers for this year, in fact in some parts of the country I’m sure they are already gone gone gone. But in a few places there are still some good ones to be found so if you are quick you might be able to grab a few flower heads and make cordial, champagne or…guess what……yes flavoured vodka.

Somehow I seem to have gathered a reputation for all things flavoured voddy and a few people have asked for the method for doing an elderflower one. So here it is:

6-8 good size elderflower heads in full bloom
750ml – 1l of vodka – basic supermarket is fine
250g-300g granulated sugar
a large glass jar or a s/steel pan will do

Make sure there are no bugs on the elderflowers.
Put the sugar then the flower heads in the jar or pan.
Pour over the vodka. I don’t use citric acid like you are supposed to in the cordial because I don’t think you need it here.
Leave to steep for at least a week preferably three. It will go a very pale sand colour. Or possibly look like ditchwater. This is okay
Stir or shake if the jar has a good seal regularly to help the sugar dissolve.
Strain either just with a sieve (so expect a bit of debris) or through muslin/coffee filter for a clearer result.
Leave to mature for at least 4 weeks or longer, the longer you leave it the mellower it gets but as elderflower is delicate you don’t want to leave it for ages, sloes and damsons can mature for a couple of years and get better but this would lose its flavour.
Drink straight. Use as a mixer like you would cassis. Or give it as gifts if you make loads.

Here’s a blog post with my more general method and tips for flavoured voddies:

Eating Norwegian for Eurovision, naturally

Its Eurovision time again. Tonight. In Oslo. Surely you are going to be watching? And you’ll need something to eat whilst the 25 contestants do their stuff followed by the age long voting process. So how to decide what Eurovision dish to have. Well you could rustle up a menu from the cuisine of the country you are supporting, you could just have something random and un-Eurovision related or you could try something from the cuisine of host country Norway.

Some of you might be saying ‘what Norwegian cuisine, isn’t it just herrings and meatballs?’ Apparently not according to Signe Johansen of the blog Scandilicious, and currently working on her first cook book. She’s already ranted on the very topic at the Real food Festival recently and she’s one a number of people championing Nordic cuisine as being seasonal, tasty and good for us too. Another champion of Scandinavian food is Trina Hahnemann, Denmark’s own Delia apparently (wonder how she feels about that!). Trina has had two books published in the UK in the last 18 months and both have plenty of recipes to whet the appetite for a fresh regional cusine that not Mediterranean. Even Jamie Oliver cooks Sweden in his latest book and series.

Regular readers will know that I’ve sampled various Norwegian dishes before, and that I have a particular penchant for the curious thing that is brown cheese (gjetost). But always keen to explore more, particularly if there is cheese on the menu, I jumped at the chance to attend a cooking demo and lunch with Trina being held at Madsen earlier this, especially because it was in association with Jarlsberg cheese.

Its not that Jarlsberg is new to me in fact I’ve been eating it from back in the days when it could only be bought in the food halls of smart department stores (all good department stores used to have rather nice food halls back then). My Dad used to buy it and rather lovely German style rye bread and it quickly became a staple on sandwiches. For whatever reason that’s kind of where it stayed. It never occurred to us to cook with it, and so it has remained in my mind a cheese for pairing with good bread and tomatoes but not one that is cooked with.

Until the lunch spent with Trina. To start off Trina explained a bit about how Jarlsberg is made (the exact recipe is a secret of course!), the process and ageing are like Gruyere and in fact the gentle nutty flavour and texture are very similar. Had I spotted this similarity myself I might have thought of cooking with it sooner. We then moved on to the demo where Trina made a cheese bread and a rye based pizza using Jarlsberg. I can hear the traditionalists howling at the very idea of the latter and Trina was mindful that it was a dish inspired by pizza but made with ingredients more traditional to Scandinavian food. I was a little sceptical, I love rye bread, I love pizza but I wasn’t sure how the two would fare together. Whilst Trina finished off the other elements of our lunch we all went back up to the restaurant where we sampled beers from AERØ. The food started to arrive and Trina came back to join us. We had a huge spread of citrus cured salmon with scrambled egg, Jarlsberg bread, rye pizza with bacon potatoes and Jarlsberg, a kale apple walnut and Jarlsberg salad, crispbreads, huge hunks of Jarlsberg, a variety of AERØ beers, tomato salad, plum compote and… you can imagine we were pretty full by the end. Trina was great company telling anecdotes about cooking in Denmark and also a font of useful information about Scandinavian cuisine.

After coffee we were packed off with giant goodie bags. And in my case a new set ideas for a cheese I’ve been a fan of for many years. For all you doubters the rye pizza was delicious, very hearty and full of flavour and just what you probably need for a long evening in front of the Eurovision.

You can find the recipe here on the Jarlsberg site.

With thanks to Jarlsberg, Trina Hahnemann and Madsen for hosting a great event.