Friday, 25 February 2011

Time for Tea!

Tovolo Tea Infuser
I like tea. I like mint tea, fruit tea, Earl (or Lady!) Grey and, of course, bog standard ‘builders’ tea. My fondness has lead me to limit myself to two cups of caffeinated tea a day during the week (irrationally based on a silly article seen in a girlie magazine) and none after 3pm unless it’s a dire emergency as the caffeine stays in your system for up to 7 hours.

My list of rules surrounding beverages might seem strange but I don’t like to rely on caffeine. I have friends and ex-colleagues who must, on pain of death (or something), have a cup of tea/coffee at whatever o’clock or the world ends – to me, this is stranger than my cuppa conventions. I used to have to have a cup of tea in the morning when I was getting up for work but I managed to give it up because I wasn’t comfortable with caffeine being the only reason that I was up and about.

I’ve also found myself becoming picky about the types or flavours of tea that I drink. I’m already pretty fussy about coffee – I try to avoid instant granules and would go for tea instead if this was the only option. A previous workplace used a popular brand of tea bags (I genuinely forget which one) which tasted stale no matter how fresh the packet was. I worked my way through a box of Asda’s own brand decaffeinated tea but won’t be buying it again as it tastes, to my palette, like sawdust if it is brewed for too long.

So, when I heard that Lahloo Tea were looking for people to try out loose leaf tea and ditch the dreaded tea bags, I jumped at the chance (and cheekily nominated myself!) to give their Tovolo tea infuser a try. I'll be posting my review once I've been able to give it a proper try.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Caramalised Pear & Almond Cake

The finished cake!

Fancy something to warm you up and cheer you up on this boring, rainy day? A while back, I saw the lovely Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall making a delicious looking pear and almond cake on his River Cottage program. I had a bag of cheap British pears (Sainsbury's does a bag of 'Basics' for not very much money) and the dregs of a bag of ground almond leftover from making brownies so I thought I'd give it a go. I modified the recipe slightly form HF-W's original but only slightly. It freezes really well - just wrap in cling-film when cool and then pop in the freezer. Here's my take on it:

Caramalised Pear & Almond Cake
For the cake
150g unsalted butter, softened
125g golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs
75g self raising flour
75g ground almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

For the caramalised pears
4 tiddly pears
25g unsalted butter
1tbsp soft dark brown sugar

- Preheat oven to 170C.
- Line a 20cm solid based tin with baking parchment.
- Peel, core and quarter the pears.
- Melt the butter on a gentle heat in a frying pan. Once it's completely melted, add the sugar and stir until it's mostly dissolved (I got little lumps of caramel in mine but this didn't seem to be a problem). Add the fruit to the pan and leave for a few minutes on a medium heat to caramlise turning so that it becomes golden on both sides and nicely soft.
- Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy then beat in one egg at a time (HF-W recommends adding a spoonful of flour with each egg to stop it curdling though I didn't bother).
- Add the flour, almonds and spices and fold into the mixture trying to keep as much air in as possible.
- Put the mixture into the tin and then arrange the pieces of pears on top, scraping any of the buttery sugary juices on top.
- Pop into the oven for 40 - 50 minutes until firm.
- Allow the cake to cool a little and then lift the cake out by the parchment.

Find the original recipe here and a film of HF-W in action.

I'm about to have a slice with a cup of Lahloo Breakfast tea - I've been lucky enough to be picked for their Tovolo Challenge so I'm ditching tea bags and am giving loose tea a try! I'll report back on my findings...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

It's all about... marmelade!

“...And I’m going to try out a marmalade recipe I’ve found,” said a friend. “It looks really easy!” This was the first that I’d heard of marmalade-making at home and the impending Seville orange season. My family have made jam through the generations – my Grandmother, in particular, would turn out jars and jars of fruity concoctions fuelled by my Grandfather’s allotment – but never, to my recollection, marmalade.

My curiosity was further sparked by Felicity Cloake’s Guardian article on how to make marmalade. It sounded, as my friend has previously said, easy. Suspiciously easy... You see, the process of boiling down ingredients until they solidify (of their own accord!) into jewel-coloured jellies seems a lot like magic to me. I’m slightly wary of it and its need, or so it seemed at first, for specific equipment (jam thermometers, muslin squares, preserving pans...) only makes me more cagey.

With a little research (mostly involving chatting over good cups of coffee with friends), I decided to jump in and give it a go. Orange marmalade didn’t really grab me, I must admit. Instead, I decided on pink grapefruit and lemon (much to The Boy’s disgust as he hates grapefruit but loves lemons), armed with a recipe from my Mother-in-Love’s Good House Keeping recipe book. Without the ‘necessary’ equipment, I threw caution to the wind and got stuck in.

I’ll warn you now: it’s a time-consuming process. But with the radio on and a Sunday afternoon stretching ahead of me, I found it quite a peaceful hour of peeling and chopping. I did get to try out my brand new zester (a present care of my Mother-in-Love) which made light work of the citrus peel and produced gorgeously uniform curls which are rather pretty. It didn’t take off all the peel so I ‘zested’ the fruit and then used a normal peeler to remove any skin that remained.

Next, I removed the smooth, white pith by slicing off the top and bottom of the fruit, just deep enough to touch the flesh. Then I sliced downwards, curving around the fruit and taking off strips of pith. From what I’ve read, it’s important to keep the pith in the mixture as it boils due to its high pectin content (that wondrous stuff that makes jam firm up). So, I roughly chopped down the strips which went into a bowl lined with a clean tea towel, just to keep things tidy.

Grapefruit & Lemon MarmaladeMakes 6 jars

2 large pink grapefruit
4 large (unwaxed) lemons
1kg sugar
2l water

 - Rinse your fruit and dry with a clean tea towel.
 - Zest the fruit with a zester and then peel the remaining skin from the fruit. Alternatively, use a peeler to remove the skin and then chop as finely as you can muster. Put all of the peel into a saucepan.
 - Cut the top and bottom of each fruit so that you can just see the flesh coming through the white pith. This will help keep the fruit steady as you remove the rest of the pith. Put the pith into a bowl lined with muslin or a clean tea towel.
 - Place the fruit on the flat side that you've cut and slice of the pith - cutting just deep enough to remove the pith and leave most of the flesh. Put any pith into the muslin lined bowl.
 - Segment the flesh, putting the membrane into the muslin lined bowl and putting each segment into the saucepan with the peel. Remove any pips that you come across and bung them in the muslin bag too.
 - Gather up the muslin containing the peel into a bundle and tie securely with cotton or string. Pop it into the saucepan with the flesh and peel. Top up with the water and simmer gently for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
 - Test the peel - it should now be tender. Remove the muslin bag and allow too cool enough so that you can handle it. This can take a while but be patient.
 - Bring the marmelade back up to a simmer and squeeze the muslin bag over the pan. A milky white liquid will seep through - this is the precious pectin (mostly from the pith of the lemons) that will help your marmalade to set.
 - Add the sugar and stir well so that it dissolves and the pectin is evenly distributed.
 - Pop a saucer or two into the freezer and bring the marmalade to a rapid boil. The liquid will reduce down and start to thicken slightly. Test for a setting point by dripping a little marmalade onto a chilled plate to see if it forms a skin. If it does, you can start to jar your marmalade but if not, don't worry. Keep boiling it down (reducing the water content and therefore increasing the proportions of pectin that will help it set) until it does.
 - I find the easiest way to jar is dip a small pyrex or heatproof jug into the saucepan to collect the marmalade then using that to pour it into sterilised jars. Seal with clean lids and store in the fridge once they're opened.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Beautiful Beetroot

I was preparing vegetables for a beetroot risotto as my parents had kindly gifted me with some lovely homegrown beets and look what I found! I've never seen anything quite like it - I'm not sure if it's because it's a winter root or because it's not actually quite ready to be eaten yet but I think it's pretty.
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