Tuesday, 30 November 2010

In the bag

Every day I try and catch up on my food blogs, one of which is the delightful A Slice of Cherry Pie, written by Julia Parsons. Julia's blog is friendly, inviting and full of great recipes. She's recently had a book published which I hope to try out very soon. (Note to husband: it's on my Wish List). But I digress, Julia's blog led me to Real Epicurean and there I learnt of 'In the Bag': a food blogging event that aims to follow seasonal ingredients, gather together a bunch of recipes and share them with the community. Julia and Scott from the Real Epicurean co-organise this event and he made it sound so much fun that I wanted to take part. You should check his blog out, not only for the cutest baby picture in the world, but also because he specialises in writing recipes that are tremendously easy to follow, a skill I'm still working on.

'In the Bag November 2010: A Food Blogging Event.  This month's theme is game

I've chosen Rabbit Cacciatore for my entry as here in Surrey I can get a whole rabbit for just over £3 and as our boiler just carked it we are on an economy drive. The meat gives the tomato sauce a deep gamey richness, perfect for the weather we have been having recently. I got this recipe from The Silver Spoon and adapted it a little to my preferences, so I use rosemary as well as thyme. I also use a little sugar and vinegar to round the flavour of the tomato sauce out. You could add olives for a slightly sharper edge but I wanted a smooth, soft taste. The stew is ideal with either a heavy pasta or polenta. I managed to get some absolutely delicious linguini from the deli stall on Guildford market. It more than held it's own against the richness of the sauce.  The total cost is approximately £3 per head.

Rabbit Cacciatore - serves 4

  • 25g butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 50g prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 rabbit, jointed
  • 175ml white wine
  • Bouquet garni of 1 fresh thyme sprig, 1 fresh rosemary sprig, 1 bay leaf
  • 1 can chopped tomato
  • 6 tomatoes chopped and seeded
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • S&P to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Sauté the onion and prosciutto in the butter on a low heat until translucent and soft. 
  3. Add the rabbit pieces and raise the heat to medium, turning occasionally to get an even colour. Season with S&P, add the wine and bouquet garni and cook for a further 20 mins.  If it starts to catch, turn the heat down and cover.
  4. Add all the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar and cook in a low oven for 1 hour. The juices will thicken as it cooks. If they are too runny add a pinch of flour and stir in. 
  5. Serve with pasta or mashed polenta. 

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Alfred: the aubergine dude.

Yesterday nature (Sainsburys) gave me a new friend.  Is there a single person out there who can look at this picture and NOT see a little aubergine dude?

So I instantly demanded that my husband (an artiste, darling) help me to reveal his hidden soul.  Who knew that aubergines are so naturally pensive?  I am particularly fond of his Elvis quiff though. Everyone needs a good quiff!

I named him Alfred and gave him the prized title of Soux Chef and he's spent his time since keeping the kitchen in order, overseeing chopping proceedings and guarding the morning's brioche attempt.

Below: Poor Alfred struggles to come to terms with the realities of kitchen life

And now his time is done, but I've grown attached to the little fella (surprising nobody) and can't bring myself to slice him open.  Can anyone recommend a fitting dish to give Alfie the send off he deserves?

And this little piggy went...

I love my local butchers. I love the variety of produce that they carry, I love the quality of their meat and their willingness to help. They never let me down. They can advise on cooking methods and portion size and they are always interested in the success of my dish when I pay my next visit. So I have to thank them for the pig jowls I recently bought, not only one of the cheapest cuts on the market but by far the tastiest ragu I have ever created. On the butcher's advice I bought untrimmed jowls (even cheaper than smaller pig cheeks) and then I took the fatty skin off at home. I turned the fat into crisp, perfect pork scratchings while using the rest of the cheeks with uncooked chorizo sausages to create a deeply flavoured ragu. The sauce is intense, the smoky paprika of the chorizo cutting through the sweetness of the pork while the thyme polenta balances the flavour and stops it from being too cloying. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Pig cheek ragu with thyme polenta
  • Marinade of 1 tsp juniper berries, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 2 tsp fennel seeds and 500ml red wine
  • Bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme and bay leaf
  • 30 ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 2kg trimmed pig cheek
  • 180g uncooked chorizo sausage (small ones or chopped into 5 cm lengths)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 can chopped tomato
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • S&P to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C.
  2. In a large bowl mix the wine, juniper berries, fennel seeds and peppercorns. Place the cheeks and chorizo in the bowl making sure all the meat is covered with the liquid. Leave to marinade in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours, ideally over night. When the marinade is done, remove the meat and pat dry with a clean towel, then strain the wine liquor into a jug for use later.
  3. In a flame-proof casserole fry the pig cheeks in the olive oil until golden brown on each side and then remove from the pan.
  4. Sauté the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, lemon zest and bouquet garni in the same casserole pan on a medium heat until softened but not coloured. Add more oil if required. Then add the tomato purée and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn't stick. 
  5. Add the strained wine liquor, using it to de-glaze the pan of any pork still stuck to the bottom. Simmer for 5 mins then add the tomato, vinegar and sugar. Place the chorizo and the pork in the pan making sure the meat is completely covered with the sauce. Cover the casserole and place in the oven for 4 hours stirring once an hour. 
  6. Then remove the lid and cook for a further 30mins before serving.

Polenta mash
  • 60g polenta
  • 600ml milk
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 40g grated parmersan
  • S&P to taste
  1. Heat the milk and thyme over a medium heat until it starts to boil, then carefully remove the thyme sprigs.
  2. Add the polenta in a steady stream whilst beating continuously with a spoon. Keep beating until all the polenta is incorporated. It will gradually thicken. Then turn the heat down to the lowest setting possible and leave to cook for approximately 20 mins stirring intermittently.
  3. Beat in the cheese and season to taste. Mix in a few thyme leaves.

Serve with a full-bodied red wine.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Winter soups: Butternut squash, sweet potato and thyme

I blinked and winter arrived. What the hell happened to autumn? Where did all the lovely golden leaves disappear to, apart from my windscreen? And how am I supposed to keep a flat with 80 year-old sash windows warm?  Ripley the cat has the right idea and has spent the last 2 weeks lying on a radiator but I'm currently rattling round a draughty Victorian flat praying for spring.

On the other hand cooking in winter is one of the nicest things I can think of to do. And while a day making meatballs is fantastically luxurious sometimes even the simplest of recipes can be just as satisfying. Soup never seems to take much effort but the right combination of flavours with warm bread and butter can fill me up as much as any large pasta dish or Sunday roast. And when the ground is hard as ice and you can see your own breath, a soup for lunch will warm you through and prepare you for the rest of the day.

This velvety butternut squash soup has a hint of thyme and a chili kick and can be served as a starter or stand-alone meal.  I chose to steam the vegetables rather than roasting them as I wanted an even colour and texture that would blend into a thick velouté. A crunchy texture was added with a toasted garlic and chili garnish. Ideal with warm bread: Dough!.

Butternut squash, sweet potato and thyme soup
  • 800g butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 400g sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 bird's eye chili, halved lengthways with seeds
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Sprigs of thyme 
  1. Prepare the squash and sweet potato by peeling and chopping into cubes. The sweet potato takes less time so cut these a little larger.
  2. In a large sauté pan fry off the garlic and shallots in the olive oil for 5 minutes or until soft, but don't let them colour. Add the squash and sweet potato and coat with the shallots and oil.  Tuck the sprigs of thyme under the veg and add 2 tbsp of water. Cover the pan with a lid and allow to steam on a low heat for approximately 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft enough to mash stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  3. Once ready carefully remove all the sprigs of thyme and transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor or jug blender and blend for approximately 5 minutes.  The longer you blend this mix, the smoother the velouté will be. Once you have a completely smooth purée add a little water until you have the consistency of custard or double cream.  At this point season to taste.
  4. Transfer the soup to a saucepan and simmer on a low heat until hot (but do not allow to boil) before transferring to serving bowls
  5. Lightly fry the sliced garlic and chili in 2 tbsp olive oil and use to dribble attractively over the surface of the soup. Garnish with thyme if desired.
If you do not have a food processor or a jug blender you can use a hand-held blender, but it will take longer to achieve a smooth velouté. Alternatively pass the vegetables through a mouli or sieve.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Naan Bread

No matter how much baking I do, there will always be things I've never attempted. In this week's course I had to produce a brioche and a naan bread, neither of which I have ever tried. In a training kitchen with one chef tutor between 15 of us this can be challenging, especially when you take into account the rush to get available equipment before somebody else snaffles it. I'm fairly sure they don't have these issues in Cordon Bleu schools but then again I don't have £32,000 per annum to spend on retraining either.

My fellow students all work in professional kitchens full time and use their newly acquired skills on a daily basis. I don't (yet), so I have to practise as much as I can at home and hope that I improve. So here we are on day five of an entire week of dough and it's curry night! My waist line hates me.

Having scoured my professional books for a recipe I liked I finally settled on one from Madhur Jaffery's book: Indian Cookery. Did you know that Madhur Jaffrey used to be an actress before becoming a food writer?  And that she is credited with introducing James Ivory to Ismail Merchant (Wikipedia, I love you)? In fact her entire family appears to be famous in some way or other, but I digress. This dough is quick and easy to make. It rose to about 3 times its original size and the resulting taste and texture is perfect so she's won me over first time. The only change I made was to use fresh yeast as I don't feel confident using the dried product. Emulating the inside of a tandoor is a challenge but the trick is to pre-heat a heavy oven tray in a hot oven and also pre-heat your grill before use. At the risk of sounding like Delia, I can't recommend Mermaid hard anodised products highly enough as my baking sheet serves as a flat base for all the breads I bake and never buckles or sticks, despite daily use.

Naan Bread - makes 6 large breads
  • 150ml lukewarm milk
  • 2 tsp castor sugar
  • 15g fresh yeast
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 150ml plain yoghurt (lightly beaten)
  • 1 large egg (lightly beaten)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl and rub the yeast in (as for crumble), then mix in the salt, baking powder and sugar.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the egg, oil and yoghurt and start to mix with one hand. With your other hand gradually add the warm milk until you have enough liquid to form a ball of dough.
  4. Knead the dough on the work surface for approx 10 minutes until it is smooth. Oil your mixing bowl with a 1/4 tsp of vegetable oil, coat the dough by turning it in the bowl then cover in cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for one hour or until it has doubled in size.
  5. Knock back the dough by kneading gently then cut into six even-sized balls. Roll into a tear-drop shape approx 12cm x 25cm.  Keep the balls you are not working on under a damp cloth so they don't dry out.
  6. Remove the hot baking tray from the oven, slap the naan onto the tray and bake in the hottest part of the oven for 3-4 mins. You will see the base begin to brown and the dough will bubble up with trapped air. Then remove the tray and place it under the hot grill to colour the top for 2 mins.
  7. Wrap the naan in a clean tea-towel and repeat process until they are all cooked (I managed 2 per tray).
Serve hot with any curry of your choice!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Soda Bread

This week's dough theme continues with a quick and easy bread. While kneading and proving dough can be lots of fun and is hugely rewarding, sometimes you just don't have the time. So I thought it was time to take a look at bicarbonate of soda.

Soda bread is incredibly easy it is to make. It's just a case of mixing the ingredients together and baking for 40-50 mins. The raising agent here is the carbon dioxide bubbles that form when the bicarbonate of soda reacts with the lactic acid in the buttermilk or yoghurt. Heavy kneading is not required for this and the loaves traditionally have a rustic shape so you don't even need to make it look smooth and pretty. Soda bread has a cross down the centre that cuts almost to the base. Some believe this is to ward off evil or let the fairies out (dude, srsly!), but I prefer to believe that it is there to help the loaf bake evenly. The lines then form natural breaks for you to take hefty chunks to dip in your stew or soup.

The recipe below is for a brown soda, sometimes known as wheaten bread which I served for lunch with a light salmon mousse (just smoked salmon trimmings blended with half a tub of half fat creme fraiche, lemon juice and seasoning) and a carrot and French bean salad. Once you've grown to love this bread you can add plenty to it, from nuts and dried fruit to chocolate. I know somebody who uses hazelnut yoghurt instead of buttermilk and the results are delicious.

 Soda Bread  - makes 1 loaf
  • 225g wholemeal flour
  • 225g plain white flour
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 45g butter
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • approx 400ml  buttermilk or natural yoghurt
  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees and lightly flour an oven tray
  2. Sift all the flour, the bicarbonate of soda and the salt together twice and then rub in the butter as you would for a crumble
  3. Stir the sugar through the mixture and make a well in the centre. Add the buttermilk/yoghurt incrementally and mix with your hand until a rough soft dough forms
  4. Now knead the dough very gently until it forms a round shape, place on the oven tray and cut a deep thick cross into the centre, nearly all the way to the baking sheet.  A wooden spoon handle is good for this job
  5. Bake for 40-50 mins until golden brown and the bottom is hollow to tap. If the cross still feels damp it needs a little longer
  6. Cool on a wire rack 

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Pizza Night

In keeping with this week's dough theme I made pizza last night for dinner. Far too much pizza to be honest, but at least it is nice cold and I run a lot! Over the past five years I have learnt how to make my own, developing my own taste for thin crisp crusts, rather than a thick stodgy deep pan along the way. And I've had fun with toppings: early lessons include the perils of adding too much sauce (the topping slides off), the evils of indecision and/or pure greed (too many toppings mean the pizza slice collapses) and an overwhelming desire to make the thinnest pizza base in the world (resulting in the pizza 'crisp').  But I kind of loved every single experience as there is something very satisfying about the entire production process.  It feels artistic and yet homely at the same time. It teaches you how to combine ingredients at a very basic level. And just like with bread your kitchen needs to be nice and warm, making it a lovely place to be on a cold winter's day.  Every imperfect pizza has taught me something about flavour combination or dough technique, or just the simple importance of remembering to get two bottles of Italian beer chilled and ready before you serve!

I have chosen 00 grade flour for this recipe as it gives the dough a really light texture.You can use strong flour with a higher gluten content if you prefer, which will result in a crunchier base. Either is delicious. The moisture in this dough comes from olive oil. As the pizza is cooked in a very hot oven the oil doesn't evaporate as water would, and so the base remains springy and elastic. Choose any topping you like for these. I've outlined last night's options below but just remember not to pile too many flavours or ingredients on there. 

Pizza base - makes 3 pizzas (or 2 pizzas and a portion of dough balls)
  • 500g 00 grade flour
  • 10g fresh yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 50g olive oil
  • 320g lukewarm water
  • Plain flour for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and place a good heavy oven tray or pizza stone in the oven to preheat
  2. Rub the yeast into the flour (like a crumble)
  3. Add the salt and olive oil and stir in
  4. Add the lukewarm water incrementally while mixing with your hands until a dough is formed
  5. Stretch the dough on the work surface by taking hold of it in both hands and pulling the hands away from each other. Then fold the dough back onto itself, turn slightly and repeat the process until it is smooth and elastic (approx 10 mins)
  6. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for one hour (or until it has doubled in size)
  7. Turn the dough out onto the surface and gently knead to knock it back
  8. Cut the dough into three even sized balls and leave to rest on a floured surface for 10 mins.
  9. Now take each ball and form the pizza base by placing the heel of your hand in the centre and gently push it away from yourself.  Turn the dough slightly and repeat over until you have a disc approximately 20-25cm in diameter.  Do this on a floured surface to prevent sticking. I think it's nice to keep a fairly rustic shape but the level of perfection you wish to achieve is entirely up to you
  10. Place the bases onto lightly floured oven trays. I use the back of the tray so I can easily slide the pizza onto the preheated tray/stone in the oven
  11. Cover the base with tomato sauce and toppings of your choice and slide the pizza off the tray onto the preheated oven tray/stone
  12. Reduce the oven heat to 140 degrees and bake for approximately 10-12 mins. The pizza should be golden brown round the edges

Basic tomato sauce
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • S&P to taste
  1. Lightly sauté the onions and garlic on a low heat for 10-15 mins. Stir to avoid colouring
  2. Once the onion is soft, add the tomato and stir constantly on a low heat for 5 mins to reduce down by about a quarter
  3. Season with the white wine vinegar, sugar and S&P to taste.  The vinegar and sugar adds a rounder flavour to the passata.
  4. Now blend the mixture with a processor, jug blender, stick blender or pass through a sieve until smooth
  5. It is now ready to be spooned onto the pizza base.  You need just enough to cover the base. 

Suggested pizza toppings 

Salami and jalapeño: salami slices, chorizo slices, chopped jalapeño, mozzarella, grated parmesan, small handful of torn basil leaves, 1 tbs olive oil for sprinkling over top.

Ham, capers and anchovies: slices of parma ham, anchovies, handful of caper berries, mozzarella, parmesan, small handful of torn basil leaves, 1 tbs olive oil for sprinkling over top.

As I've already said, use any toppings you like.  Don't use too much and always add the cheese on last so it can turn golden brown in the heat and protect the other ingredients. I like to swirl a tablespoon of olive oil over the toppings before baking.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Chelsea Buns

For the past two weeks at college we've been making dough based products.  Bread rolls, granary loaves, enriched dough and speciality breads have all been on the menu. So this week my task is to make a different bread product every day and incorporate them into one of the day's meals.  Pizza for dinner one day, curry and naan bread for lunch the next, brioche for breakfast at the weekend or soup and soda bread as a Sunday lunch starter.

In order to get me in the mood for this I started last week by making Chelsea Buns on Friday. These were a Saturday coffee morning treat after I had completed a 10km run in Greenwich Park to raise money for the charity Women for Congo Women. And in light of the herculean effort I put in I didn't feel at all guilty about devouring two of these sugary treats before heading out to lunch.

Chelsea Buns are made with an enriched dough, giving them a sweet, doughnutty taste. Traditionally the buns are then rolled with sugar, cinnamon and currants like a Swiss roll before baking and then glazing. I had plenty of fruit left over from my Christmas cakes (blog to follow) so I included cranberries and dates to the mix. I also upped the spice and sugar content as these buns were my own special treat after running and also because the taste of the filling should be stronger than the dough. Previous ones I'd made in class the week before hadn't packed a big enough punch. 

Chelsea Buns
Makes 8 large or 12 small
  • 225ml milk
  • 15g fresh yeast
  • 45g caster sugar
  • 450g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 45g soft butter
  • 1 egg
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 70g soft butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 150g dried fruit - I used currants, sultanas, finely chopped dates and cranberries
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 75g water
  • half a small sheet of gelatine (optional - omit for vegetarian version)
  1. Heat milk and leave to cool until lukewarm before creaming 1tbsp of it with the yeast and 1tsp sugar
  2. Sift flour and 1/2 tsp cinnamon into a mixing bowl and rub in butter like a crumble and then stir in the sugar and pinch of salt
  3. Beat the egg and mix with the flour and yeast mixture
  4. Mix in the lukewarm milk until a dough forms (add incrementally to avoid dough becoming too sticky)
  5. Knead for 5-10 mins as you would for normal bread dough. Once elastic and smooth place in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film and leave to rise for approximately an hour (or until dough has doubled in size)
  6. Knock back the dough by kneading gently for a couple of minutes before rolling into a rectangle of approximately 40cm x 20cm.  Try to ensure this is as even as possible so the resulting buns are a consistent size
  7. Now take the soft (room temp) butter, spices and sugar from the mix ingredients and beat them together to make a paste
  8. Spread (like butter) over the dough, right to the edges.  Remember any part of the dough not covered will result in the full flavour not reaching every mouthful
  9. Sprinkle the fruit over the dough, once again making sure that you don't neglect the edges
  10. Now roll the dough up tight like a Swiss roll
  11. Use a sharp knife (the sharper the better so as not to squash your roll) tp cut the dough down the middle to create 2 halves
  12. With each half repeat the process by halving again giving you 4 pieces in total
  13. Depending on whether you want large or small buns now either cut each quarter into 3 equal pieces (12 small in total) or 2 equal pieces (8 large in total)
  14. Carefully place the buns flat on a greased oven tray (a large flat palette knife or a flat spatula may help here)
  15. Leave buns to prove again in a warm place for 15 mins then brush with egg wash and bake at 200C for 20-25 mins.  You need to bake the dough through so if it looks like they are browning too quickly just lower the temperature slightly or move to a lower shelf.
  16. Leave to cool on a wire rack before separating and removing from the tray. When you move them support them underneath with the palette or spatula and remember that until they cool completely the fruit will easily fall out, so handle with care
  17. Once they have cooled, boil up the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until a syrup is formed.  Gelatine will make the glaze set a little harder and if you decide to use it you need to soften the sheet in cold water for 10 minutes before squeezing out excess the water and stirring into your syrup until if has completely dissolved.  Brush the glaze onto the buns swiftly (before the glaze in the pan cools down) and leave to set.

Serve with a cold frosty morning, a newspaper and a vat of coffee.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Strawberry Jam

To avoid avoid the nightmare of Christmas shopping this year I will make mini Christmas hampers for everyone. Since the middle of summer I've been making the odd thing here and there so now the bottom shelf of my pantry (ikea cupboard) is full of jam, various infusing spirits and preserving paraphernalia. I've spent the last couple of months foraging for blackberries, battling with unset jellies and sterilising squillions of jam jars but I'm nearly there now and only have a handful of tomato sauces to make.  Aargh and the Christmas cakes.  My poor husband is starting to fear that I'm turning into Martha Stewart (without the prison sentence) and lives in fear of waking up to discover the flat covered in patchwork and tea cosies. Poor chap doesn't even like jam.

Most jam recipes state that jam should be consumed within 6 months so in order to maximise the shelf life of these Christmas gifts I wanted to make the jam as late as possible. To benefit from cheap fruit I bought fresh strawberries in July, weighed them into 1 kilo bags, froze them and made the jam this week.

I prefer a pure strawberry taste so the only additional flavour in this jam is lemon juice for the set. It's the fifth batch of jam I've made this year and so far shows all the signs of being the best yet.  The strawberries collapsed comprehensively as a result of being frozen but the taste is perfectly sweet without being cloying and the lemon adds the perfect high note to balance out the sugar.

  Prepare in advance by making sure you have the following things to hand:

- 6 medium size jam jars.  Either save them up from your normal shopping purchases, beg and steal from friends and family or just buy direct from places like John Lewis or Lakeland.  I can also recommend this fabulous little site: Jam Jar Shop.
- a maslin pan, or large flat-bottomed pan
- a sugar thermometer (although I will discuss how to check the setting point of the jam without this)
- a wide-necked jam funnel (not absolutely essential but it will cut down on an awful lot of mess).

Now you are ready.  The process of making the jam is surprisingly easy yet amazes me every time. The truth is, the part of the process that takes the longest is cleaning and sterilising the jars, and that really couldn't be simpler.

Frozen Strawberry Jam
  • 1kg strawberries, hulled and frozen
  • 1kg preserving sugar 
  • Juice of 1&1/2 lemons
  1. First defrost the strawberries an hour before use
  2. Wash all the jam jars and funnel with hot soapy water, rinse them well and place on an oven proof tray.  Put the tray in the oven on a low heat (120degrees) for 30 mins. Place the jars neck up so you don't have to touch them before adding the jam
  3. Put all the fruit, sugar and lemon juice together in the pan and bring to the boil on a low heat
  4. Stir often to dissolve all the sugar
  5. As the sugar starts to boil the temperature will slowly rise towards the setting point (105C). To test this dip your thermometer into the centre of the jam to take it's temperature. NB if you do not have a thermometer you can test this by placing a small plate in the freezer an hour before you start to make the jam. To test the set, drip some jam onto the plate and leave to cool for 3-5 seconds.  When cool nudge the jam with your fingers. If the surface wrinkles you have reached setting point.
  6. Once setting point has been reached turn the heat off and lightly skim the froth from the top of the jam.  Remove the tray and sterilised jars from the oven with oven gloves.  Try not to touch any of the necks or lids with your fingers or gloves.  If you are using a jam funnel place this in the neck of the jar and ladle the jam in until the jar is full. Otherwise ladle straight into the jar. Immediately screw on the lid.  
  7. If you wish to use wax discs at this point they should be pushed onto the top of the hot jam before screwing on the lid.  Personally I don't bother as I don't see the point of adding a non-sterile element to the jar when I've gone to so much effort to sterilise it.

Toast and jam, cream tea or Victoria sponge cake?  

An unexpected side effect of preparing hampers in this way is that I am now completely excited about Christmas.  It almost feels like it's time to put the decorations up and order the Baileys in.  Does anyone else create these little hampers for friends?  What are your favourite home-made gifts?