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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Jammin’


Around The Puddles I’m using wild strawberries for groundcover, and they’re doing an excellent job at keeping weeds at bay; in fact I think I’ll try to propagate as many runners as possible to use elsewhere in the garden. They have pretty little flowers in spring, and these days they are covered with tiny red berries that are absolutely delicious; slightly more sour than regular strawberries,

Wild Strawberries

Unlike regular strawberries, the wild variety has white flesh, and the red colour is only skin deep. This means that in order to retain as much of the colour as possible I added a dash of vinegar; the acidity helps bring out the colour in the berries, and the taste is easily masked by the sugar.

Cooked straberriesThe traditional recipe is 1 part berries and 1 part sugar, but with modern jam sugar you can reduce the sugar content without sacrificing the preservation period, so I tend to use as little sugar as possible; only enough for the taste to be sweet and jam-like. I add some water as well, just so the jam won’t burn, and then I simmer it for an hour or so until the berries are completely mushy and liquid sets quickly on a cold spoon.

Strawberry and rhubarb jam

I sterilise the jars with vodka. I could have used boiling water, but I’ve previously had jars explode on me when I poured in the boiling water, so now I use a dash of cheap and nasty vodka that we have sitting in the kitchen after a party some years ago; it’s not really drinkable, but it works well as a household spirit for all sorts of practical/cleaning applications.

Sadly, though, we only just had enough wild strawberries to make a single small jar of jam. Not exactly industrial quantities, so I re-used to pot to make a jar of rhubarb jam as well; the rhubarb crop this year is rather disappointing, and I suspect I should really give the rhubarb some sort of fertilizer next year so it will have something to grow on.

Since slugs ate most of my beans and my peas seem to have died during an extended dry period in late spring, this might be the only food to leave my garden. (Okay, so there will most likely be a few pears and apples and plums as well, but you get the point.) The strawberry jam will come back to Copenhagen with me today and be presented to my Mother-in-Law as a hostess present when we go there for dinner on Friday, and the rhubarb jam will remain in the Summer House for future breakfasts or afternoon tea. It might not be much, but there’s definitely a certain satisfaction in preserving a little bit of summer in a jar. And who knows; maybe the raspberries will produce enough berries for another jar, and in autumn there will be wild brambles in the forest…

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So the freezing nights over the weekend did their thing, and the dahlias responded as predicted:

Dead dahlias

No more dahlia flowers for me this year, but considering that they bloomed consistently from the end of June on to now, I think they’ve proven themselves worthy.

And to imagine that all this came out of a few packets of seeds – that weren’t even all used! (Remember, I sent half to my Mum, and I actually didn’t even use my own half completely because I just didn’t have room in the windows in the apartment…)

I think I will leave them where they are today and just enjoy a lazy afternoon, having finished painting the rear of the annex today. I’ve had a nasty cough for the last few days, so I’m planning on spoiling myself with a woolly blanket over my feet, a novel in my hand and perhaps the odd swig of red wine in my mouth. (Ooh, perhaps I should mull some wine? I know it isn’t Christmas yet, but mulled wine is excellent for a sore throat…)

Allright, so here’s the recipe:

First you take 5 sticks of cinnamon, 20 cloves and – if you are so inclined – the rind of an orange. Stick it all in a jar, cover it with snaps, vodka or similarly strong spirits (Rhum would work very well, as would brandy or cognac.) and leave it for roughly 12-48 months.

Mulled wine extract

Okay, so that might be an exageration…What I mean to say is that each year at the end of December I prepare a jar like this and then I leave it until Christmas comes rolling round again.

Depending on how much mulled wine you make during the holiday season, normally a small jar will be plenty. I’ve used this 300cl jar for years and it has never come up empty… Perhaps because I don’t know many who like mulled wine, but never mind.

To make the perfect mulled wine you need a quarter of a jar of this extract, two bottles of wine, a cup of sugar and as much additional alcohol as you’d like. When I was an au pair in France I was taught in the Danish Church in Paris that you should add one bottle of snaps for every four bottles of wine – adding the snaps AFTER you’d taken the mulled wine off the heat, but this is not a recipe I can recommend. You’d get drunk just standing next to the punch bowl…

Mulled wine

A mug of wine, mulled and ready to drink. Except that in Denmark mulled wine is normally served with raisins and almond chips.

I love the taste of the warm wine with the spices; it’s perfect on cold evenings, especially when you have a cold or a sore throat. (I currently have both, so that’s my excuse…)

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-And I just can’t hide it!

A very good friend of mine is getting married in 15 days and tomorrow is her hen night. And it will be hosted in The Flâneur Apartment!

I’m going to cook my ass off to make sure she has a lovely meal and a perfect evening. I got up this morning and started rubbing salt, thyme and bay leaves into raw duck thighs, for Christ’s sake… I’m going all in, as much or perhaps even more than last Christmas.

There will be afternoon snacks (bruschetti with a variety of toppings), a starter of home-made ravioli, a mains of home-made confit of duck with trimmings, a salad course, a cheese course and a dessert of various home-made chocolate truffles.

Claire of Promenade Plantings recently advertised for guest bloggers during her vacation, so you will be able to see most of the recipes and their results on her blog on October 6th, the day my friend is getting married. Why on HER blog, you ask? Well, her blog has a mix of gardening and foodie stuff, so it somehow seems to fit in with her style better than with mine. (I will, though, remind you to visit her blog when the date arrives…)

Also, I thought it would be fun to write something to be read by people who don’t normally see my entries. After all, if you like writing you most likely enjoy reaching a variety of readers, so having the chance to present my words to her readers really seems like a privilege.

Anyway, her blog is worth a visit with or without my guest entry, so go no. Did I mention it was promenadeplantings.com?

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Apples and Pears


-Or rather, a distinct absence thereof. Our little apple tree that gave some 30 apples last year have not produced a single one this year, possibly due to some late spring frost that killed off the blossoms. The pear tree, on the other hand, gave no fruit last year but produced 5 pears this year, only one of which got to stick around on the tree long enough to ripen – and then it fell to the ground and was inedible when got up to the garden last weekend.

You win some, you loose some, right? So here are the wins:

The French beans are beautiful, both the classic green ones and the purple ones. The yellow French beans never really got started, since the plants where eaten as soon as they emerged from the ground, and for some reason the other beans fared better, perhaps because of the marigolds that I sowed between the green and purple beans? I cannot know, of course, but I will definitely sow marigolds between my beans next year as well, just in case this was the determining factor.

The cherry tomatoes also did well, though I had to pick them all this weekend as there is little point in letting the green ones ripen, only to leave them to drop to the ground before the next time I have time to get up to the garden. I’ve eaten some of the red cherry tomatoes and preserved the rest by scolding them and putting them in a jar of oil with a touch of salt. And I love the fragrance of green tomatoes, so I’ve brought them back to Copenhagen and might try pickling them somehow. Maybe whole in a sweet vanilla-infused vinegar like my mother used to do? Or maybe as a jam of sorts.

The yellow mirabelle prunes are generally dull-tasting, but the ripe ones seemed to have already fallen to the ground (making for a few drunken bees and wasps on the lawn) with only sour, unripe fruit left on the tree, so I tried making a jelly of it. It turned out nice and clear and with just the right consistency, but the taste was just not very interesting – though bitter! – so I scrapped it and made a mental note to just consider this fruit ornamental in coming years.

I also got some weeding done, though mainly “large” weeding. There is a large perennial that is very invasive and self-seeds all over the place, so I’ve been ripping that out everywhere I could find it, throwing the plants in the compost and the roots in the trash. And another potentially invasive weed, the Himalayan Balsam, got the opposite treatment, with me trying to gather seeds from it so I can sow them in the spring; it grows to 2 meters and has very pretty flowers that supposedly attracts bees and butterflies, so I’m willing to overlook the fact that it will spread wherever it wants. (Also, it’s FUN to gather balsam seeds, since the seed pods “explode” when touched, sending the seeds flying all over the place so you really need to be careful if you want them to end up in your seed collection, rather than everywhere on the ground.)

The rudbeckias are blooming now, but I forgot to take a picture. Many of the rudbeckias that I brought from my mother’s garden last autumn died over the cold winter, but enough have survived and have established themselves that I think I can make an acceptable block of them in one of the borders.

In shopping news my spring bulbs have arrived! 250 mixed tulips and 500 mixed crocus… Now I just need to store them in a cool, dark place until I go up to the garden the next time, which will be in a few weeks.

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The weather was lovely, I had spent most of the day relaxing and reading, and suddenly when I walked through the courtyard I suddenly noticed the blackberries had ripened and were ready to pick.

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We don’t have a lot of blackberries, and our fruit bushes in general are terribly unkempt which clearly doesn’t improve the yield, but I got a nice little bowl of blackberries, just enough to warrant making jam!

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A bowlful of blackberries, a couple of handfuls of preserving sugar and a tiny dash of water, boil it until it sets quickly when tested on a refrigerated plate and then pour into sterilised jars.

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Hopla! Two jars of preserved summer and sunshine to be enjoyed on warm home-baked rolls this winter!

I also picked a few handful of green and purple French beans, blanched them and put them in the freezer, and I picked the dried pods off the peas and shelled them so I can try sowing them next year.

But summer shouldn’t just be about preserving; it should also be about enjoying transient beauty, right? Since I had to go back to town Sunday late morning for the leaving-do of a friend who is moving abroad, I figured I’d bring her a random bunch of whatever is flowering right now:

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Crocosmia, goldenrod and gladiolus, with a random Mexican tiger flower from a pot in the courtyard. When I picked them I didn’t actually have any idea that I would end up with a colour scheme that looks intentional, perhaps even coordinated.

(All right, I also picked some sweet peas, but since their stems are so short they ended up as an additional posy.)

This is the sort of wild life I lead… Riveting, isn’t it?

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>I went up to the garden yesterday with a friend who hadn’t seen the summer house yet, so I’d scheduled an afternoon and evening of indulgence in order to give him the best possible impression.

Instead of the mediocre (at best) weather forecasted, it turned out to be a sunny and warm afternoon, and we even chose to retreat into the shade of the blood mirabelle tree in order to get out of the heat. That’s always a sign that it’s a nice day!

Anyway, for dinner I made a pea risotto with Serrano ham wrapped chicken filets, and I thought I’d share this with you.

First, grow your peas!

(I’ve cheated a little and grown some previously…)

Pea Risotto (2 portions)

  • 2 cups shelled peas (fresh or – if it must be – frozen)
  • The pods from the peas (or if using frozen, another two cups of peas)
  • Some chicken or vegetable stock (or a stock cube, or indeed just a roughly chopped onion)
  • A few herbs – I like to use a tiny sprig of fresh thyme, but 2-3 sage leaves also works a treat. Just don’t over-do it, as the herbs can easily over-power the subtle pea taste.
  • 1/2 litre of water
  • 1 cup of risotto rice (arborio or similar)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion (or a handful of shallots if you have them)
  • 1 lump of butter (for frying the onions, garlic and rice, so you decide how much a “lump” is…)
  • 1/2 glass of white wine for the risotto, and 1 glass of white wine for the cook
  • 1 cup grated hard cheese – I like to use pecorino (a hard Italian goat’s cheese), but obviously Parmesan or Grano Padano would be just as suitable
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste

So we start with the peas :

Shell the peas and put them aside while dumping the shells in half a litre of water along with the thyme, stock (or just chopped onion). Turn up the hob to maximum and let the broth boil for 10 minutes, then turn it down to the lowest heat and simmer for two hours.

And yes, by the time the pea shells have cooked for a few hours they will look disgusting, a sort of brownish green. No worries; you won’t be eating those, but the both will have a nice subtle taste of peas, and that’s what matters. Strain the broth and pour it back into the saucepan and keep it on a low heat while you cook the risotto. Discard the shells.

Chop the onion/shallots and the garlic as finely as you feel like. No need to be too fuzzy, I think. Put the garlic and onion in another saucepan with the butter and gently turn up the heat to sauté them until clear. Then add the rice and stir until it’s evenly coated with the butter. Add half a glass of white wine to the pan and pour yourself a glass as well, as this is the point when you will be stuck at the cooker for the next twenty minutes… You might as well enjoy it, right?

For the next 10-15 minutes you need to stir the rice every few minutes, adding a ladle of broth whenever the risotto starts to thicken.

When the rice is nearly tender, add the peas and continue as above for another 5 minutes until the rice is completely cooked. Add as much cheese as you feel you can do without tainting your conscience (in my case that’s a LOT of cheese!) and stir it in. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper, but remember to be generous with the pepper…

Serve with some grated cheese on top and another grinding of black pepper.

In theory risotto ought to be served on its own as a starter, but I like to serve it as a main, so I normally break the protocol and serve some flesh on the side, in this case chicken filets wrapped in Serrano ham and pan fried. Oh, and if anybody is wondering, the glass at the top contained a lovely crémant de Bourgogne (Paul Delane – not very expensive, and nowhere near the price of Champagne) which went well with the dish, the bubbles undercutting the richness of the risotto rather nicely.

Mrs. Beeton’s Rhubarb Jam Recipe:

I mentioned at one time that I’d made some rhubarb-and-ginger jam after a recipe from Mrs. Beeton’s Every-day Cookery, and somebody asked for the recipe. Well, in Mrs. Beeton’s own words:

INGREDIENTS – To each lb. of rhubarb allow 1lb. of preserving sugar, 1/2 a
teaspoonful of ground ginger, and the finely grated rind of 1/2 a lemon.
METHOD – Remove the outer stringy parts of the rhubarb, cut it into short lengths and weigh it. Put it into a preserving-pan with sugar, ginger, and lemon rind in the above proportions, place the pan by the side of the fire, and let the contents come very slowly to boiling-point, stirring occasionally meanwhile. Boil until the jam sets quickly when tested on a cold plate. Pour it into pots, cover closely, and store.
TIME – From 1 to 1 1/2 hours, according to the age of the rhubarb.

The rhubarb jam is in the tall jar, whereas the shorter jar contains a strawberry-and-lemon jam of my own invention. (If you’ve made jam once, surely you can then start improvising, right?)

And let me tell you… The ginger packs a punch! To my taste buds, the rhubarb jam is not for breakfast use, but much more suited for afternoon tea. TEA, not coffee… Coffee clashes with the ginger in quite a bad way, I can tell you, whereas a cup of Earl Grey tea becomes even more perfect with a slice of toast with rhubarb-and-ginger jam. If you have rhubarb in your garden, give this a go! You will not (I hope and believe) regret it…

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