Thursday, 7 June 2012

Mango & Orange Curd

Now that our 3 little chickens have settled in and regrown all the feathers (and a fair bit of - ahem - insulation), they've started popping out eggs like feathery little pez dispensers! We get two eggs a day, occasionally three (and one time after they escaped and ate the neighbours petunias we were surprised to get four!). Life BC (Before Chickens) was one of limited eggs, usually bought from the woman up the road who keeps chickens & geese free range in her garden & sells her excess eggs. Now I have a dozen or so eggs a week. They get given to friends and family, but still, it's a lot of frittatas! So I've discovered the delights of curd!

When I was a cub, lemon curd meant one thing - watching in mild bemusement as my Mum stomped around the kitchen whipping up lemon curd (as well as strawberry jam, shortbread and Victoria sponge cake) for the WI Country Show in the hopes of winning the coveted trophy. Lacking any kind of competitive streak, I could never understand the appeal of baking for trophies (or, in my Mums case, So-Pat-Down-The-Road-Doesn't-Win-It), but nevertheless whisked eggs and creamed butter, and dodged any flying cutlery.

Curd is an intensely flavoured spread made with a decadent mix of butter, eggs & sugar. Such indulgent fair needs citrus to curb its enthusiasm, so lemon, lime, orange and even raspberry are added. But it was still always a little too rich for my tastes. But I was in my local Asian grocers and saw a box of Alphonso mangoes... hmm.

Alphonso mangoes, named after Afonso de Alberquerque*, the 16th Century Portuguese military commander and Muslim-botherer (known as The Lion Of The Sea. If you take a moment to think about a Lion in the sea, and how pissed off he might be about it, you're halfway there. Bearded, damp & psychotic comes to mind.) are not the sort of thing you'll find in your local Tesco. It has a short season, late April to June, and is grown in Western India. It comes either individually wrapped in tissue paper or in a cardboard box of 4 or 6. Alphonso aren't cheap, but they are worth it! Sunny yellow skin covering buttery, honey-sweet saffron coloured flesh (and don't I get all poetical when it comes to fruit!). I usually just buy one or two with every intention of making something delicious with them, but they end up being gulped down, furtive & messily, over the sink. This time I bought a box of six. Two to gulp down like the gluttonous little fox I am, two to make into mango sorbet and two to make into curd. And what a delicious curd they made!

If you have a temperamental hob, make this in a double boiler (or bowl over a pan of simmering water). If you trust your hob, make it in a heavy bottomed pan. For best results you'll need a sugar thermometer which, double boiler or not, will help avoid the dreaded curdling.
If mangoes aren't your thing (and may the Cephalopod Horrors from Beyond preserve you, you poor soul) 450g of any fruit puree you can think of should work too. I've made this recipe with apple & lemon (which was softly sweet and soothing, like a fluffy yellow blanket) & Pineapple & lemon (a sharp, sweet, tangy curd, I think I'll replace the lemon with grapefruit next time). I plan on making guava & lime & banana & lemon soon too. Play with the recipe & make it your own, just remember it needs the citrus element to balance out the sweet richness.

Mango & Orange Curd
2-3 Alphonso mangoes (or two regular ones)
Juice & zest of 2 oranges (or 100ml orange juice)
125g butter
400g sugar
4-5 large eggs, beaten

Cut open the mangoes & scoop the flesh into a blender. Give the stones & skin a good hard squeeze to get as much of that lovely flesh & juice out. Add the orange juice & zest & wizz to a puree.
But the butter, sugar & mango pulp into a large pan over a low heat. Whisk until the butter & sugar have melted. You'll need the sugar thermometer at this point. Make sure the buttery mangoness is no hotter than 55°C, 60°C at the most. Any hotter and your eggs will scramble. And it will be a sad day, a day of mourning. Dogs will howl at you in the street, for They Will Know. Pour the eggs through a sieve into the pan (the sieve is to catch any of the stringy white bits that wont blend into the curd and make it look a bit unsettling. You can wizz the eggs in a blender, since its already had mango in it, instead) and whisk thoroughly. If it looks like it's starting to split, remove from the heat and whisk madly until smooth.
Keep the pan on a gentle heat, giving it a whisk and scraping down the sides every minute or two. After ten minutes or so, it will start to turn thick & creamy. Don't rush this stage, and keep an eye on the sugar thermometer, which should read 82-84°C when its ready.
Pour into warm, sterilised jars & seal.
Use within 4 weeks, and once opened store in the fridge.

Serve on toast, spread on warm bread, spoon into yoghurt, spread onto sponge cakes, blob on the top of muffins, add to pastries, stir into cake mix, use it as an excuse to make meringue pie, swirl into ice cream and always, always lick the spoon!

*Hot dog, jumping frog...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Mr Brock

We have a new visitor to our Shack-In-The-Marshes. He stops by most evenings. He's a delightful old gentleman. His vision isn't much, and he's a bit curmudgeonly, but I enjoy his company.

He is known as Mr Brock (Brocc is the Old English word for badger, from the Celtic Brokko meaning grey), and he pops in most evening on his travels to snaffle up any spilled chicken feed. Badgers are unlikely to kill chickens (on very rare occasions they may go for a sick bird, but they are carrion eaters and are more likely to be found eating a bird that has died of natural causes than one they have killed themselves) and the chickens don't seem too troubled by his visits (though they are usually tucked up in bed when he comes calling).

If you have a badger that wants to come into your garden, there isn't much you can do about it. They are very strong and can move surprisingly fast. I'm of the opinion that you can waste a lot of time and energy badger-proofing your garden, or you can provide them with a better choice of food and reduce any risk of damage to your veggies. Badgers love peanuts (unsalted), apples & pears, but also appreciate dog or cat food and a drink of water.

So we have a sack of dry dog food & some unsalted nuts, and many evenings of watching Mr Brock snuffle around.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Cassoulita (Mexican style Baked Beans)

Exciting Things are happening here in North Lincolnshire. We are perilously close to setting up a gorram brewery! The site has been located & forms filled out in octuplicate, the bank shamans have been appeased with offerings of cash flow charts & SWOT* analysis, and after some intense negotiations, it is agreed that there will be beetroot beer. It will be called 'Best Beeter'. You may not believe me, but that wasn't my idea.

But anyway, I promised Mexican baked beans, and here it is.

Cassoulita is a Mexican inspired dish of beans, sweetcorn & vegetables baked in a rich pasilla chile sauce (though you can use guajillo instead, or if all else fails chipotle). I can't think of a nicer way to spend a rainy afternoon (we're having a lot of those at the moment), and it fills the house with warm, comforting spice.
We've been eating it on sourdough toast (sourdough will be blogged about soon!), though it's lovely on baked potato, with eggs or veggie sausages.

Pasilla sauce
4 dried pasilla chiles
1/2 cup ground almonds
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp tomato puree
750ml vegetable stock
250ml boiling water
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Deseed the chiles & soak in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain & combine with all the other ingredients, adding the stock a little at a time, in a blender & wizz until smooth. You have pasilla sauce, that wasn't too hard, was it? If you can't get pasilla or guajillo chiles, replace with 4 tbsp of chipotle paste.

1 batch of Pasilla sauce
500g beans (pinto, black beans or borlotti work well, but you can use any), soaked overnight & cooked. Or 3 cans of beans, drained.
2 sticks of celery, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 red onions (say it with me) finely diced
200g sweetcorn
2 tbsp vegetable oil
bunch of coriander, chopped

Preheat oven to 150C/300F/G2. Heat the oil in a large casserole dish. Fry the onion, carrot & celery until translucent. Add the pasilla sauce & beans & stir. Cover & bake for 1 hour (if you don't have a big casserole dish, you can transfer the beans to an oven dish & cover with tinfoil). If you fancy, remove the lid after 40 minutes & top with shredded cheese, anything you fancy, though Monterey Jack is pretty good.
serve with avocado and a squeeze of lime.

Om nom nom!

*aka we will fight off our competition with reasoned debates, responsible pricing structures & a sack full of doorknobs.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Boston Baked Beans

Baked beans are one of those things that pretty much everyone is familiar with, though the name is a bit of a misnomer, as the beans (usually haricot beans, little white beans known as navy beans in the US, despite being neither blue nor associated with the Village People but due to their being highly nutritious & having a long storage life, which made them a popular foodstuff in the US Navy) are usually stewed rather than baked. Baked beans come from the French peasant dish Cassoulet, a slow cooked stew of white beans and pork. In Brazil these bean stews are called feijoada, in Spain fabada, in Greece fasolada.
In the US baked beans are made with pork rind, maple syrup, offcuts of barbecued meats or molasses, depending on the region. Boston baked beans are traditionally made with molasses & pork, so are sweet, but rich & complex, rather than sugary. Here in the UK baked beans just means beans in tomato sauce in a can. They are cheap and available everywhere from Fortnum & Mason to the smallest corner shop. So why make your own?
Well, because its a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon, it tastes a hundred times better than the stuff in tins and sometimes its nice to spend the afternoon pottering around the kitchen being bloody minded enough to spend the best half of the day making what is essentially the ultimate in fast food!

I used pinto beans in this recipe, because I'm a maverick like that. You can use any beans you fancy, and if their not white, ninjas from the Society of Historically Accurate Foods will not sneak into your house at night and steal all your teaspoons.

Boston Baked Beans

400g dried white beans such as haricot, cannellini or butter beans(or 3 400g tins - don't drain them though!)
125ml molasses (you can use black treacle if you can't get molasses)
2 tsp yellow mustard powder
2 tbs tomato puree
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
salt & pepper

If using dried beans, soak in plenty of water overnight. Drain, place in a large saucepan & cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil & cook 10 minutes before reducing the heat. Simmer until tender (sorry to be vague, but cooking times for beans varies depending on age & size) & set to one side. Don't drain, you'll need some of the cooking liquid.
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/G2.
Tip the beans into a large ovenproof dish, reserving the cooking/can liquid. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (if you are using tinned beans you wont need any salt. If using dried beans, 1 tsp salt should do the job). Pour over just enough cooking/can liquid to cover the beans & cover with foil. Place in the oven and bake for 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours. Check every hour in case they need topping up with water.
Remove from oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Serve any way you fancy, though I recommend cornbread or sourdough toast.

Next time baked beans - Mexican Style!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


In case you've been wondering where I've been recently, here's a clue!

Yes, we have chickens! A week ago we collected 3 ex-commercial laying hens from the lovely people of British Hen Welfare Trust, a UK charity dedicated to rehoming battery & caged chickens.
They rescue thousands of chickens each year that are destined for the slaughterhouse, usually less than a year old, because they are no longer commercially viable for egg laying.
I firmly believe that a chicken has the right to scratch at the soil, peck at insects and feel the sun on her back. I also believe in taking responsibility for the food I eat (so I doubt I'll ever have my own cows, so I'll make do with milk & butter from local organically reared dairy cows).
This isn't a lecture, we all need to decide where our own personal line in the sand is when it comes to our impact on the environment.

But eggs aren't the only reason to keep chickens. They add life to the garden, poop to the compost heap (and so much of it!) and soft burbling chatter while you're sowing seeds, pulling weeds or otherwise bimbling about in the garden. They'll also take care of those troublesome slugs you've collected up from the vegetable beds (so you don't have to do anything unpleasant with salt or scissors) and weeds too. Due to some crackerarsed government thinking, you can't feed kitchen scraps to chickens if you're planning on selling your eggs. Our scraps get chopped up before being chucked out for their delectation, or cooked & mashed into their morning feed.

Being ex-battery hens, our girls are quite raggedy-looking, and still learning how to act like chickens (it has been a delight to watch their first attempts at scratching, dust bathing and having a good old stretch & run around in the mornings). But feathers will regrow, and I hope we'll be able to enjoy their company for many years, and give them a life worth living.

The brown envelopes offer is still open, so please do get in touch if you're interested. To all you lovely folks who have already been in touch, there are envelopes on their way to you, and good luck with this years growing!

Okay, I'm off to sow some potatoes (I say sow potatoes, but I'll probably just end up watching chickens sunbathing!)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cut The Mustard

Mustard is one of those essential components in cooking. even if you're not really into the pungent flavour and violent assault on the sinuses a smear of the yellow stuff brings its an essential addition to cheese sauces, pickles and salad dressings. There is a range of fancy mustards out there, but the prices are almost as eye-watering as the mustard itself! But mustard is really cheap and easy to make at home, all you need is a blender or food processor.

Like the aqueduct, roads, irrigation & sanitation, the Romans were responsible for giving us a paste of unfermented grape must & mustard seeds called mustum ardens - mustard. Dijon in France became the center of mustard making in the 13th century, and is still the mustard capital of the world.
Mustard has been around in the UK for hundreds of years, and was mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry IV part 2 (The Revenge).

The main ingredient of mustard is mustard seeds, of which there are three varieties; Sinapis hirta, which produces yellow mustard seeds (the powdered stuff in the Colmans tins & basis of American hot dog mustard), Brassica juncea, which gives us brown or Indian mustard & Brassica nigra, which produces black mustard. From these three, you can create a baffling range of condiments. You can buy bags of mustard seeds from Asian or international grocers, which are much cheaper than those tiny little jars at the supermarket. You can also buy mustard seeds bulk online.

At its simplest, mustard is a paste of ground mustard seeds, water & salt. The vivid yellow English mustard is usually made this way, maybe with a dash of lemon juice too. With a hot, wasabi-like kick to it, it's an acquired taste. Fresh mustard is very pungent, but mellows with storage. If you like the sensation of having liquid nitrogen blasted up your nose, store it in the fridge, where the cold will slow down the mellowing process. Mustard can be stored indefinitely, so when Cthulhu & his Excessively Tentacled Kin finally get their arses into gear there'll be something to help the human brains go down easier.

But we're doing something a bit more special here. You could use water to make mustard, but wheres the fun in that? Mustard is traditionally made with vinegar (which gives a milder mustard) or unfermented grape juice (used in making Dijon mustard), but you can use anything. There are old recipes that use beef broth, though I prefer beer or cider.
So here is a quick & simple recipe for cider & honey mustard that will fill 5 or 6 small jars.

Cider & Honey Mustard

175g (1 cup) yellow mustard seeds
175g (1 cup) black mustard seeds
500ml cider
150ml cider vinegar
6tbs honey
1 tbs salt

Tip the mustard seeds in a large bowl & pour over the cider. Cover & leave overnight.
Next day, add the remaining ingredients & pour into a blender or food processor. Blend to whatever consistency you like. If you want a coarse wholegrain mustard, just give it a few pulses. If you want something a bit smoother, blend for longer. It's not an exact science, just blitz until you like the look of it. If you want a smoother mustard, blend it thoroughly and push through a sieve. But that is a bit of a faff, really.
The mustard will look a little bit runny at first, but after 10 minutes, some SCIENCE will occur and it will thicken up (though probably not as thick as commercially made mustard, it'll still be good for spreading & smearing). Pour or spoon into sterilised jars & seal.
The hardest part is waiting, as the mustard needs a couple of weeks storage for the flavours to mellow and mature. Once opened, store in the fridge.

So now you have the basics, you can start to experiment! Here are a few ideas...

Fresh herbs: a tbs or two of finely chopped parsley, tarragon, chives or mint stirred in at the end. Finely chopped garlic or shallots work well too.

Spices: 2 or 3 tbs of sweet, hot or smoked paprika. Yum!

Vinegars: this recipe uses cider vinegar, but you can use white wine, red wine, fruit or even balsamic vinegars instead.

Sweeteners: mustard needs a touch of sweetness. Demerara, maple syrup, muscovado, apple concentrate, date syrup & agave nectar are some of the other things you can use instead of honey.

Until next time!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Brown Envelopes

Hello folks (if there's anyone out there still reading *waves*)
I'm back, after a long absence. Hopefully I'll be back into blogging more regularly now (and working through the pile of photos and recipes for posting that have built up).

It's been a difficult couple of months. Some days I'm on top of the tiger, some days the tiger is on top of me (well, most mornings there's a cat with delusions of grandeur bouncing on my bladder and demanding to be fed, but that doesn't count). MikeyFox & I were both made redundant in February, so have been making the most of our time doing DIY, redecorating & repairs around the house & garden, including planting trees, creating a herb garden & building a house & fenced off run for the chickens we'll be getting this weekend.

So to celebrate my return to blogging, it's a brown envelope giveaway!
Brown envelopes usually contain bad news or bills, but not mine. Mine contain seeds, and maybe even tea, stickers or chocolates!

So if you'd like a brown envelope, get in touch. My email address is
If there's anything you can't grow, or if you don't have much space, let me know (so I don't send you a Jurassic kale or monsterous South American vegetable). If you want something in particular (hardy tomato, weird pumpkin, giant South American vegetable...) let me know, I have all sorts. If you just fancy a surprise, that's great too.
I don't expect anything in return, nor will I pass on your details to anyone and this offer will not bite you in the arse.
You can send me something back if you like, but you don't have to :)

Anyway, enough about me. How have you been?