Mostarda di #Allotment

Glistening in righteous expensiveness in the upper-crust supermarkets, lives Mostarda di Cremona. What we can buy, while still the genuine article, is the lower end of the range. It’s a strange substance, candied fruit preserved  in a mustard syrup. The Real Thing is split by region (there are many Mostardas) and also by specified fruit. You’d choose the one to go with your cheese or cold meat, like we would make a choice between quince or cranberry or mint jelly. It’s as much texture as flavour, some are chopped small and are more like an old English chutney, but I like the ones that look like a box of Newberry Fruits tipped into a bottle of glycerine.

When we were making Courgette and Pineapple jam, I loved the crispness of the courgette pieces in among the clear syrup, and I thought then that I’d have a go at a Courgette Cremona. Starting to research recipes, I discovered what my main problem would be. Authentic Mostardas are flavoured with mustard essential oil, which you can get in Italy but not here. There were compromise versions with dry mustard powder dissolved into the liquid, or spice bags filled with mustard seed boiled up with the fruit, but I was stomping my Ickle Foot of Tantrum. Why can’t I get it here? My Indian cookery books all talk about mustard oil with gay abandon, surely I could find it in Sheffield.

And I did, sort of. Mustard oil IS sold in Indian shops, in with the almond oil and hair tonics. It has “For External Use Only” written on the labels in bright red letters. Apparently under EU regulations it can’t be sold as a foodstuff, as it has a high amount of erucic acid. But they haven’t put anything in it to make it unusable, just a label saying Ooooh, Aren’t You Naughty. There’s a wonderfully tactful explanation on the Spices of India website. I wasn’t sure what the mustardy strength of my massage oil/hair tonic would be compared to this mythical Italian essential oil, so we took it slowly and tasted as we went.

Following the original jam recipe, I put 2 lbs of peeled and degorged courgettes, green and yellow, into a bowl and added about 1.5 lbs of caster sugar. I’d found that to be incredibly sweet when I made it before, so this time I added 2 fl oz lime juice as well. Stirred it up well, and left it overnight. The sugar brings out the juice, crisping up the courgette and also making a clear syrup. The idea is that now you boil the mixture, and it turns into jam. I wanted to stop partway through that process, while there was still plenty of liquid. It took a while to get there, but eventually I had some nicely candied courgette in hot syrup. I added a small tub of glace cherries (rinsed), 4 oz diced peel (not the regular industrial mixed peel, some candied citron, orange and lemon peel strips cut to the same size as the courgette), and simmered that for just a few minutes to meld it all in.

Now came the tricksy bit. The one thing I did know about mustard oil from my reading is that it is pungent in the bottle, but loses that and becomes sweet when you heat it. Fair play, regular made-up mustard does that too. So I didn’t want to heat it too much when mixing it in with the syrup, but I did want to get it emulsified before anything started to caramelise.

I waited until the syrup was warm enough to stick a finger into, and added 1 fl oz mustard oil. It tasted fine, sweet and slightly warming, but not anywhere near a full mustard hit. The mixture didn’t separate, though. Let it cool down a bit more, taste again, add some more oil. Over the course of a couple of hours I added 4 fl oz in total. The syrup is tangy rather than hot, certainly not piccalilli strength. It made a 1-litre jarful, and it looks beautiful. The light colours of the courgettes are set off by the deeper yellows and oranges of the peel, and the scattered bright red of the cherries. I was concerned that the syrup and oil would separate when it cooled thoroughly, but it doesn’t seem to have yet. Which means the mustard oil is slowly finding its way into the fruit …

The traditional Italian time to eat Mostardas is autumn, but I think for UK versions it’ll be Christmas. With ham, with Wensleydale, with cold turkey. Glazing a ham with it, even, or studding the top of a terrine – decorating the top of a warm whole Camembert.

We have a lot of butternut squash coming off the allotment, and I am tempted now to try a cross between candied pumpkin and a mostarda, but using the dry powder variant to see if I can get it stronger.

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Christmas Fig Chutney

I was very taken, watching HFW and the River Cottage Christmas Fayre programme, with his Christmas Chutney. But when I went looking for it, it was the one recipe that wasn’t up on his website, bah humbug.

I’ve been meaning to try some recipes from my new (second-hand) copy of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys, and there’s one in there for Dried Fruit Chutney.

So from what I remembered from the telly, what I’d got in the cupboard, and using quantities from the book, I took:

8 oz baby dried figs, cut roughly
8 oz dried sweetened cranberries
4 oz pitted prunes
4 oz raisins
soaked together for about 20 mins with the grated rind of 2 oranges and the juice of half an orange

While that’s soaking, chop 12 oz each onions and apples. That was about 3 onions, 1 Bramley and a couple of red eating apples. Add 4 small cloves of crushed garlic. Fry them in a tiny tiny drop of oil, just to get them started, until they’re soft and you can’t smell the raw onion any more.

Tip in the fruit and juice, and add about half a pint of cider vinegar along with the rest of the juice from the 2 oranges. Stir and cook until the fruit is starting to plump up and soften and the vinegar is getting well absorbed.

Add another half pint of cider vinegar, and 2 good tablespoons of balsamic glaze flavoured with orange oil.

Bung in the spices:
a thumb joint sized piece of fresh ginger, chopped small
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
0.5 tsp ground cloves
pinch paprika
2 tsps ground cardamom
2 tsps ground ginger

Stir all up well, let it come back to simmer and stir in, slowly, 24 oz muscovado sugar.

Simmer slowly until it’s thick and pulpy.

Update: it made a very large and two smaller jars. Dark and fruity, almost chewy in spots. It was ready to eat straight away, but about 6 weeks down the line the ginger is starting to come through more and the flavours are really developing. It’s not dried out as much as I was afraid it would, but it’s not a sopping wet chutney. Just right for cheese sandwiches.

Christmas preparations

I keep thinking there's too much space in the fridge, but that's because the ham is in the oven and the goose crown is still in the freezer.

I've got the Ginger / Wasabi salmon on Day 2. The ham is lightly wrapped in foil, on a bed of fresh bay leaves, coriander and mustard seed, and allspice berries, in a Gas Mark 4 oven. It should come out around 7:30, which gives me plenty of time to decide what to glaze / crust it with.

We went to Beanies this morning and bought several sackfuls of veg, also to Fresh Asia in Broomhill to get some interesting things for the Japanese Experiment on Christmas Eve.

My thoughts so far are:

Tonight – venison liver, parsnip rosti, redcurrant jelly, cauliflower
Tuesday – main meal out at lunchtime in town, which could be anything. If we're hungry when we come home, individual baked baby camemberts with crusty ground hazelnut topping and bread and pear wedges to dunk.
Wednesday – last minute supermarket shopping, main meal in the evening of cured salmon, braised belly pork, miso-marinated grilled chicken, fresh pickled vegetables, carrot and sesame salad, cold green tea noodles, possibly some hand-rolled sushi, maybe some steamed aubergine with peanut sauce. There are some Sekrit Treats to go with this, and some bizarre pickled substances I bought this morning.
Thursday – roast goose, roast potatoes, parsnips, baby baby sprouts, braised red cabbage and chestnuts, cornbread sage dressing, gravy, ginger sauce, pickled pears – Christmas pudding
Friday – Ham, pork pie, salad, cheese, fruit, Christmas cake
Saturday – something fresh and spicy, maybe a set of veggie curries
Sunday – I have a joint of spiced cured beef, I may do something with that
After that we're into leftovers. 

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Ginger Wasabi Cured Salmon

In the past we’ve made this, which is wonderful, but I’ve had in the back of my mind a more oriental version that would go well with sushi-type things rather than the traditional blinis and cream. So, today I have taken:

  • 2 fillets lovely dark pink wild alaska salmon, the same size and shape and weighing about 500 gms total
  • 3 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coarse crystal salt
  • 1 teaspoon wasabi powder (freshly opened)
  • 1 big hand fresh ginger, very coarsely grated but not peeled.

I put one piece of salmon skin-side down on some clingfilm, mixed up the cure ingredients, and spread them on top. Whacked the other bit of salmon on to complete the sandwich (skin-side up), wrapped the package up tightly. I’ve put it in a deep oval dish in the fridge, with a plate and the Christmas gammon on top to weight it. Today’s the 21st, I shall turn it and look after it every day, with a view to serving it for supper on Christmas Eve. I’ll wipe the cure off and cut it in slices, like a thick cut smoked salmon.

Purist Japanese foodies can look away now, but I’m going to do a variety of beginner dishes from Just Hungry, with what I can easily get locally, and have a munchie buffet.

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2008 Christmas magazine roundup

I always get a good selection of the foodie magazines at this time of year, and look at what the trends are. This year was fascinating. Although a lot of these feature spreads are planned months ago, the credit crunch was obviously in the air already. There's a definite seventies feel about the recipes – retro without being fashionable, just what 50-year-olds remember as being celebration food without expensive frills. There is no new exotic cuisine – some Thai noodle salads but those are almost domestic standards now. Lots of cheap and seasonal fruit and vegetables, fish and meat. The treats use classic Christmas treat foods – glace fruit, chocolate, smoked salmon, booze.

The main recipes were almost all:

  • Smoked salmon parcels for starters (the one that bucked the trend had prawn and avocado cocktail)
  • Plain turkey with plain veg – roast potatoes, sprouts, parsnips, red cabbage
  • Celeriac gratin
  • Jerusalem artichoke soup
  • Roast root veg with different spices and coatings
  • Roast pork as the alternative big joint
  • Nut roasts for vegetarians, especially en croute
  • Old fashioned desserts – date pudding, fruit crumble, ginger sponge, apple tart
  • Yule logs / sweet roulades – mostly chocolate, some with cherries (Black Forest, yay!)
  • Baked Alaskas – especially individual ones, or with special fillings (orange and chocolate)
  • Cocktails
  • Home made things – including a recipe for home-made "Irish Cream Liqueur", haven't seen one of those for about thirty years

There were some minor things that seemed to pop up whenever the opportunity arose:

  • Parsnip crisps – bought (M&S, Waitrose), or home-made – for soup garnishes, mostly
  • White chocolate / cranberry mix – cookies, squares, cheesecakes, even trifle
  • Leeks (in soups, pies, stews, and risottos)
  • Hot griddled slices of pear – with pate, as a soup garnish, with sauce as dessert

The winner of the chef who's everywhere is Anjum Anand – and the recipes are simple and homely. We're trying her spiced lambshank with chestnuts tonight, although with rice rather than the official side of parsnip mash.


 

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Christmas Dinner 2007

Found some goose breast crowns in LIDL, weighing about a kilo each, for £8. The instructions were to roast at 200 (Gas Mark 6) for an hour, and that worked really well. I was using a single small oven this year, and that let me roast the potatoes underneath and the celery stuffing on the bottom.

Two of them gave off about a pint of good quality fat, and we carved off two whole breasts from each one, one breast per person. That was a large portion of solid meat, and there was a spare breast for slices if seconds were required.

The German meat stall at the Sheffield Christmas Market sold sealed longlife bags of shredded red cabbage cooked in apple juice, I microwaved one of them as a veg.

Dad did his oriental braised sprouts, and carrots with soy sauce and star anise. There were some steamed new potatoes, as well as the roasties.

Plain gravy made in the goose roasting tin, with some Chardonnay left over from Christmas Eve supper.

EDIT: Whoops, forgot, apple butter sauce with cloves as well

Bottle of Quinze President with main course.

A Waitrose "richly fruited" christmas pudding, with cream or white sauce, and a tiny bottle of Royal Tokay wine.

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Celery Stuffing

I meant to make cornbread dressing to go with the Christmas goose, but I didn’t have time to make the cornbread. So I riffed it:

  • 4 slices bacon, cut into small strips
  • some sunflower oil
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 massive rib green celery, very leafy, chopped
  • 1 big onion, finely chopped
  • 3 slices crumbled stollen (to replace the cornbread sweetness)
  • 6 slices sourdough bread, lightly toasted and cut into rough cubes
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp dried sage
  • About 2/3 pint well-seasoned chicken stock (2 coffee mugs)

Fry the bacon in the oil until brown and crisp. Scoop the bacon out, add the butter to the oil and fry the onion and celery, with the leaves, until soft and the onion is browning at the edges. Take off the heat, add the bacon and the dry ingredients. Stir well, tip into a baking dish. Sprinkle with half the stock, and bake on the bottom of the oven. This had an hour at gas mark 6, under the goose and potatoes. If it starts to toast and dry out too much, add the second mug of stock about half way through.

Great cold, too. It was very green, if the celery wasn’t leafy, or was blanched, I’d be tempted to bung in a bunch of roughly chopped parsley.

Good cold.

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