Mojito sorbet

Mojito Sorbet

I first made this back in March, when my thoughts had turned to spring, and in turn summer. The recipe was born both from a love of mojitos and the desire to have a few recipe ideas up my sleeve for summer entertaining in our new home. (I’ve just realised how ridiculously middle class the phrase ‘summer entertaining’ sounds – I am evidently a closet Hyacinth Bucket.)

However, the Great British Climate had other ideas as usual, and we spent most of March freezing cold, with it snowing on several occasions throughout the month. Although this meant that sorbet was a little inappropriate for the time of year, I still enjoyed eating this – sneaking spoonfuls of it from the freezer whenever I was in the kitchen.

Thankfully, I’m finally now able to post this recipe in honour of the SCORCHIO weather we’ve been having lately. We knew it’d get here eventually…

Ingredients

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 80g granulated brown demerara sugar (plus 20g more to stir in at the end)
  • 200ml water
  • Zest and juice of 4 limes
  • 3 teaspoonfuls of white rum (optional)
  • 8g fresh mint leaves

Gently heat the caster sugar, brown sugar and water together in a saucepan, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat and pour it into a Pyrex or other heatproof jug. Stir in the lime zest and juice and the white rum. Cover and leave in the fridge until chilled.

Once the syrup is chilled, add it into an ice cream machine and churn according to the instructions.

Once the sorbet is churned, finely chop the mint leaves and fold them into the mixture along with the remaining 20g of brown sugar. I add the extra sugar at the end like this as I like the ‘crunch’ of brown sugar in a mojito. Transfer the mixture to a tub and put it in the freezer for at least 12 hours before serving.

By the way, I realise this isn’t a great picture – Food photography seems to be a skill I am yet to master. It tastes really nice though – honest!

Feed me, Seymour!

Starling feeding

The title of this post is inspired by my boyfriend’s recent purchase of the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack. He bloody loves that film, bless him. The subject of the post has a more Springwatch-y feel, with the balcony recently playing host to lots of young birds, noisy and hungry, begging for food from their parents.

We’ve had a family of blackbirds, lots of families of starlings (see picture above) and greenfinches and a few juvenile goldfinches too. I genuinely never get bored of watching the parent birds feeding their young, even when they make a right old racket outside the window.

I was watching a young blackbird the other day, copying the movements and posturing of the adult male and echoing his calls. I might be anthropomorphizing (shhh – don’t tell Chris Packham), but it was almost as though the adult was teaching the youngster how to be a blackbird. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to watch their behaviour in such close proximity and, as usual, I’ve taken about a bazillion photos of them:

Male blackbird feeding a youngster.

Male blackbird feeding a youngster.

A greenfinch feeding its chick - this photo is a bit rubbish as the sun was shining through the window...

A greenfinch feeding its chick – this photo is a bit rubbish as the sun was shining through the window…

(Left): A very cute greenfinch chick (Right): A young blackbird

(Left): A very cute greenfinch chick (Right): A young blackbird

A pair of young blackbirds - the light's not very good but I just liked the way they're posed!

A pair of young blackbirds – the light’s not very good on this one but I just liked the way they’re posed!

Blue tit fury

I realised yesterday that I didn’t post anything at all in April, which made me feel very neglectful and tardy. While I get on with writing some more food related content, I thought I’d post this in celebration of spring, which has finally sprung in time for the May Bank Holidays. I think a spot of beer gardening may be in order if the weather stays nice.

Spring’s arrival has been marked by a noticeable increase in avian activity everywhere, including the balcony garden. Nesting material is being gathered, the feeders are emptying faster than ever, and territories are being defended. The blue tit in the video below has been visiting several times a day for the last couple of weeks, tapping at the windows. A quick bit of Googling suggested that this behaviour is quite common at this time of year, with male blue tits attacking their reflections in windows and car mirrors, thinking it’s another male trying to move in on their nesting site.

Crazy little bird.

(Oh, and while I’m here – Happy Star Wars Day! May the fourth be with you. Always.)

The Hairy Dieters’ (almost) guilt-free chicken korma

Chicken korma

Owen and I recently invested in a set of bathroom scales, ending years of blissful ignorance towards any excess weight we may be carrying. It was a little unsettling. While blissful ignorance may not be an entirely accurate description – we do make an effort to eat good, healthy food most of the time – we have accepted that we really need to reduce our calorie intake as well as getting off our arses and doing some exercise.

I’ve honestly never been the sort of person who bores everyone to tears with their fad dieting and all that sort of nonsense, but I do believe in eating well – with the odd indulgence thrown in of course. When I hear the word ‘calories’, I tend to immediately zone out, drifting off into daydreams of cake and curry. I think this relates back to years ago when I used to work in a library, where a large majority of my colleagues were middle-aged women on diets. They were all very lovely – don’t get me wrong (it was like having about twenty mums), but I was a svelte youngster in my late teens, and could therefore eat and drink whatever I wanted without getting fat. I had little interest in such concerns.

Needless to say, I am no longer eighteen years old, and when I eat lots of crap, there are consequences.

Should you find yourself in a similar predicament, I can recommend this curry, which is from the Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight cookbook and TV series. Gawd bless those lovable Geordies.

The only changes I made were to halve the recipe as there are only two of us, and to leave out the double cream (I just used yoghurt instead). I would usually use a bit less cardamom in a curry, but this actually came out fine with the amount suggested. We ate this on Friday night and I will definitely be making it again. Admittedly, the idea of it being a ‘lighter’ curry may have been undermined by the naan bread and beers we had with it…

Seville orange marmalade

Marmalade

I know this post comes a bit late for the Seville orange season but I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with house hunting recently, hence the delay in writing this. Still, you can make marmalade at any time of year using normal oranges or other citrus fruit, so there’s no reason to wait if you fancy a spot of marmaladary.

This was my first attempt at making marmalade, and from what I can tell, it didn’t turn out too badly. I’ve given some away to family members so I’ll be asking for their honest verdict.

I amalgamated several different recipes – as I often do – after initially being inspired by Nigel Slater’s recipe in The Kitchen Diaries II. The recipe given here is what I did this time round, but I’ll probably make some adjustments next time (which I’ve mentioned within the recipe).

Ingredients

(As usual, please excuse the mishmash of metric and imperial quantities)

  • A lemon
  • 1.3kg of Seville oranges
  • 1lb of sugar for every pint of resulting liquid (I used preserving sugar which has larger flakes, but granulated is cheaper and would be just as effective. Just make sure you don’t use jam sugar with the added pectin.)
  • Grated fresh ginger (optional)

Gently zest the lemon and juice it. Put the zest and juice in a bowl and put any pips onto a clean square of muslin. Chop what’s left of the lemon and add it to the muslin.  Cut the oranges in half and squeeze out the juice into the bowl, again adding any pips to the muslin. I can recommend using one of those little wooden pointy things to do your squeezing.

I juiced the oranges one by one into a smaller bowl before de-seeding and adding to the larger bowl, as this made the seeds easier to pick out. However, there were still a few seedy bits left in the finished product, so in future I would consider just juicing all the oranges into a big bowl and sieving the juice for a clearer result. The contents of the sieve could then be added to the muslin.

Scoop the rest of the flesh from each orange (I used a metal ice cream scoop to do this) and add to the square of muslin, leaving half shells of skin and pith. Trim off any dodgy bits from the oranges and add these to the muslin as well. The reason for doing this with the flesh and pips is to add additional pectin to the marmalade to help it set.

This is what you should end up with:

Marmalade

Tie up the muslin securely into a bag, and put it in the larger bowl of juice, along with the half orange ‘shells’. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, add the juice, muslin bag and orange peel shells into a preserving pan or other large receptacle. Add 2.5 litres of water. This seemed like a lot of water to me, but it boils down and concentrates the flavour, so don’t panic.

Bring all this to the boil and allow it to simmer on a low heat for one and a half to two hours, or until the orange skins are nicely tender. Turn off the heat and allow to cool a bit. Once the orange skins are cool enough to handle, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon. Scrape out any excess pith (again, I used an ice cream scoop) into another clean square of muslin. Tie up the muslin and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible into the pan. This liquid is rich in pectin and will help further with the set.

Marmalade

Remove the muslin bag of flesh and pips and again, squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible. I untied the muslins and scraped out the pulp before washing them ready for re-use, but you can always just throw them away if you can’t be bothered with all that.

Slice your orange peel into your choice of strips or chunks. Obviously, if you prefer shredless marmalade, you can just bin them. I sliced mine into very fine strips, but only used a few of the orange shells as while I like shredded marmalade, I don’t want too much of it in there.

Add the strips back to the pan and measure the amount of liquid you have. I had three pints. I was a bit confused about how much sugar to use as the recipes I’d read varied widely. Some calculated the amount of sugar to the original weight of the oranges, some just gave a specific amount and so on. I decided to stick with what I know and used the ratios I use for jelly – i.e. 1lb of sugar for every pint of liquid.

I divided my mixture into two batches of one and a half pints each, making one into normal marmalade (normalade) and adding a couple of heaped tablespoons of fresh peeled and grated ginger to the other. I did consider adding whisky and other spices, but thought this might be better suited to a regular orange marmalade (which I will probably try at some point).

So, once you’ve added your sugar to your juice/ peel mixture, bring it to the boil and basically boil the shit out of it until it reaches the setting point. I’ve always used a jam thermometer for this bit, but now find that my preserve-making instincts have developed sufficiently to allow me to judge fairly accurately when the setting point has been reached. As a result, I went ‘freestyle’ for my second batch (much like Luke Skywalker in the attack on the Death Star where he switches off his targeting computer). I still use the method of putting a plate in the freezer before I start and spooning some of the marmalade onto the cold plate to check for a set (easier said than done when you’re standing over a pot of what is essentially boiling syrup with a teaspoon, tentatively trying to spoon it out). If it wrinkles when you push your finger through it, it’s ready. I also find that another indicator of the setting point is when the mixture settles to a slower, bubbling boil rather than a frothing, rolling boil.

Marmalade

Once it’s ready, turn off the heat and leave it to sit for a bit to allow it to set slightly. This will prevent the strips of peel from sinking to the bottom of the jars. Decant into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

Makes about 6 jars of marmalade.

Marmalade

Marmalade

Chilli jam

Chilli Jam

This goes with loads of things – cheese, curry, smeared on a bit of fish before grilling – whatever you fancy. I have a tendency to add more chilli to this each time I make it, and obviously you could adjust the amount and variety of chilli and whether you leave the seeds in depending on personal preference or who you’re giving it away to.

You can double the ingredients for this if you like, but I don’t recommend it as it’s much more manageable with these quantities – even if it does only make two and a bit jars.

I have plans to develop a less faffy, more ‘everyday’ recipe for this, perhaps using whole roasted tomatoes in order to reduce waste and save time. If and when I do, I’ll post it here for comparison and bump the recipe given here up to ‘deluxe’ status…

Ingredients

  • 6 Average sized tomatoes, as red as you can get them
  • 1 normal red pepper and 1 red Romero pepper (or 2 normal red peppers)
  • 3 fresh red chillies, halved and de-seeded
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • A piece of fresh ginger, about a large ‘thumb’s worth, peeled and finely grated
  • 50g balsamic vinegar
  • 100g white granulated or caster sugar
  • 100g jam sugar (the one with added pectin)

Halve and de-seed/ de-stalk the red peppers. Place in a roasting tray as they are, with no oil, and roast at about gas mark 6 for 30-45 minutes, or until they look nicely roasted. Don’t worry if the edges become slightly charred- this adds to the flavour.

While the peppers are roasting, you can peel your tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to cut a small cross in the skin of each tomato, and place them in a large bowl of boiling water. After a few minutes, you should find the skin peels away easily from them (if doubling the ingredients, it’s best to do this in two batches and replenish the water in between). This is also easier if you start with the tomatoes at room temperature, rather than straight from the fridge.

Once you’ve peeled your tomatoes, cut them in half and scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp, leaving the firm tomato flesh. A metal ice cream scoop is ideal for doing this.

Once your peppers are roasted, add the peppers, tomatoes, chillies, garlic, ginger and balsamic vinegar to a food processor and whizz everything until it’s a consistent texture, with no large chunks.

Add the mixture to a large pan and add the sugar. Bring to the boil and then simmer, stirring regularly until the overall texture becomes nice and syrupy. If you scrape the spoon over the bottom of the pan and can see a clear line in the mixture, it’s pretty much done.

Chilli jam

Decant into hot, sterilised jars and seal.

Makes about 2 jars of jam.

Mugged off by a pigeon (or how I learned to stop worrying and tolerate the pigeons)

Pigeon

For the last few months, I’ve been embroiled in an ongoing battle of wits with the local pigeon population. Along with the other small birds on my balcony, I’d been enjoying a nice pigeon-free existence until the local pigeons discovered that there was food to be had there. They started visiting in ever increasing numbers, and with ever increasing confidence. And who can blame them, really? After all, they’re wild animals in need of food and are therefore unlikely to turn down an easy meal.

So what’s the problem, then? The problem is: they are a massive pain in the balls. They hoover up all the food before the smaller birds can get a look in, they shit everywhere, and they dig through the soil, chucking it about and making an absolute bloody mess.

It’s a shame, as I used to be visited several times a day by chaffinches- who tend to prefer feeding from a flat surface to a feeder. However, since the bird table stopped having any food left on it, they seem to have lost interest and I’ve not seen one for ages.

My pigeon-proofing efforts have included raising the height of the bird feeders so the pigeons couldn’t reach them, installing pigeon spikes, and enlisting my dad’s help in making a rather nifty little cage to go over the bird table:

Bird table cage

Me (and all the other small birds) one, pigeons nil.

The cage seemed to work for a while, until this happened:

One all.

One all.

“This isn’t over!” I exclaimed, shaking my fists out of the window at the feathered bastards. They didn’t care, of course, because they’re pigeons and they have no understanding of human language or hand gestures.

Another of my ideas was to put garden canes in the pots to stop the pigeons from getting into them and digging up the soil (and some newly-planted bulbs). Again, this works up to a point but they still seem to wedge themselves in among the sticks to get to the food.

A better alternative to the sticks seems to be to cover the pots in chicken wire, a tactic I have deployed on my pots containing bulbs. I’ve also used upturned hanging baskets with some success.

My increasingly obsessive desperation to outwit the pigeons is demonstrated quite well in this photo, I think:

Maximun security bird table

Unsurprisingly, they still don’t seem that bothered:

Pigeon

Short of putting up netting around the entire balcony (which I’m not going to do for fear of smaller birds getting caught in it), I don’t think I’m likely to ever deter them completely. I think I need to just get over it and learn to admire them for their perseverance. I am essentially the Wile E. Coyote to their Road Runner, employing ever more elaborate Acme brand products in a futile attempt to overcome them. And anyway, perhaps it’s wrong to discriminate against them, just because they’re not as popular as the other avian visitors. They are quite beautiful when you think about it, with their iridescent neck feathers. I certainly wouldn’t do them any harm – I have, in fact, been known to free them from buckets and from my watering can when they’ve got stuck inside them (although I admit it was with a smug “who’s the smart one now, eh?” feeling as I did it).

My acceptance for the pigeons was cemented further recently when Winterwatch featured a piece about The Feral Pigeon Project, which aims to find out more about the ecology of feral pigeons. It taught me a bit more about the different colourings of these birds and prompted me to observe them in a different way.

And so, that’s the story of one person’s begrudging resignation to the way of the pigeon. I’m such an old softie.