Preserved Lemons – an easy, no-cook edible gift idea

preserved-lemons-imageDo you want/need extra brownie points this Christmas? Have you forgotten anyone on your list and are scratching your head for ideas? Even if you aren’t in the doghouse for something or other, and you have been as organised as I have not, these wonderfully-easy preserved lemons will be most welcome.

If you have never had preserved lemons before, you are in for a treat. If you have had them – bought ones – these are many times better. Of course, if you make your own I won’t convince you that these are any better. I’m positive your preserved lemons are the bomb. But if you think that preserved lemons have to be made in two stages – stage one: let the lemons release their juice over several days; stage two: top with salt and spices – this is a one stage, make and seal recipe. I make it frequently; it always works.

The only (teensy) drawback is that you need to tell your recipient to hold off taking out the golden glistening lemons and tearing away the succulent skin for about a month. Three weeks at a minimum to soften the skin and make it delectably edible. Let them know that good things come to those who wait. That applies to you too. Wait patiently and you will be rewarded with an absolutely blissful addition to many, many savoury dishes. They keep for a year, but I truly doubt this statement will be tested.preserved-lemons-image

If you and your loved ones love Middle Eastern, North African or Mediterranean food, preserved lemons are the ideal accompaniment. Although this makes one quart jar’s worth, this is of course easily increased. Or you can do as I do and make it up in two smaller, wide-mouthed jars. One to keep and one to share.

As a side thought, if you have everything but the coarse salt don’t bother struggling through traffic or battling it out in the grocery store, just use table salt. Ordinary table salt. It will taste just fine.

This is my last proper post this week, unless I have a sudden brainwave that I feel compelled to share. Have a wonderful Christmas all of you. Enjoy every day of the festive season, whatever your faith.

preserved-lemons-imagePreserved Lemons – Quick and Easy

 8-10 unwaxed and well-scrubbed juicy-feeling lemons (unwaxed is very important) – 4-5 juiced and 4-5 quartered but still attached at the tip

 8 heaped tbsps coarse/rock salt (or 5 heaped tbsp table salt)

4 or 5 fresh bay leaves or 2-3 dried ones

2 heaped tbsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed OR 1 tbsp black peppercorns

2 lightly crushed green cardamom pods (optional)

 Special equipment: 1 quart jar or two smaller wide-mouthed jars – sterilised. With vinegar-proof lids if possible, but I use a tear of parchment paper to act as an acid barrier. I place it over the open jar and just screw the lid on tightly.

 1. Stuff each quartered lemon with some of the salt and push it back to its original shape. Pop each into the sterilised jar(s), squishing the lemons to release juice. Add the remaining salt, the bay leaves, peppercorns and the cardamom.

 2. Top with the squeezed lemon juice, adding a little water if needed – just to cover the lemons. Seal and store for a month, turning a couple of times a week if remembered. These will keep up to a year without refrigeration, but I like to keep the in the refrigerator anyway. They are too perky and pretty to stash away out of sight!

 To use: with a small paring knife, separate the skin from the flesh and use the skin only – the flesh is really too salty, although I have used a smidge in salad dressings to no ill effect. Take the skin and chop it rather finely. Add sparingly as a seasoning into North African (especially any tagine), Middle Eastern and even many Mediterranean dishes. Perfect in salsas, dips, bean and grain dishes, as well as a snappy garnish/flavouring for soups, plain and exotic. I love a crafty sprinkle onto hummus as well as omelettes and vegetable-topped soccas.

 This recipe first appeared in my Quinoa Bowl With Citrus, Avocado and Edamame. I have also used it in the recent Lemony Kale, Quinoa and Chickpea Salad. Look out for another super simple recipe using preserved lemons in the very near future.preserved-lemons-imagepreserved-lemons-image

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How To Make Fruit Vinegars: easy, delicious, versatile

making fruit vinegarWhat’s the first thing that springs to mind when I say/write ‘vinegar’? In Britain it would definitely be ‘fish and chips’. In an eco-warrior’s house it might be ‘cleaning spray’. I don’t think many people would say ‘fruit’.

I may be showing my age but I wouldn’t be without a bottle or two of fruit vinegar. Just as I like to see a sticky shelf lined up with mismatched bottles of homemade jams (very Little House On The Prairie), I now like to see a few bottles of brightly-coloured, sharp-sweet fruit vinegar alongside. I used to think they were only good for drizzling over fancy salads, but I have come to find that fruit vinegars are as useful to me as ‘regular’ vinegar – just in different ways. In fact, it is a very inexpensive way to make lots of things more special. Continue reading

Three-Ginger Bonfire Night Parkin (Sticky Gingerbread) with Vanilla-Apple Compote

Here in the UK we are coming up for the effigy-burning, firework-displaying extravaganza that is Guy Fawkes  Night. Also known as Bonfire Night, November 5 commemorates the evening in 1605 that 13 young men had planned to use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Poor old Guy Fawkes should have stayed in the ye olde tavern because not only was he caught, tortured and executed, we now have a rather gruesome tradition of making effigies of him to burn. Or rather they do in England. Up in Scotland it’s just fireworks and hard cider (any excuse really).

Continue reading

Blackcurrant and Raspberry Jam

Now, you may be trying to stay as far from the stove as possible. Your cooking horizons may have shrunk to slicing things up for sandwiches, maybe stretching to cutting up fruit if eating it whole is impossible. You may even be fanning yourself with a sheaf of shockingly high electricity bills right now, a glass of iced something or other by your side. And here I am wanting you to get out your biggest pot and deliberately stand over a fruity sauna to make jam. Yes, it’s that time of year. Time to get jamming. Continue reading

Rhubarb and Cranberry Chutney, Chipotle Mayonnaise and Provencal Herb Mustard

Today I have put together three recipes that you can give as gifts and/or keep for your Hanukkah or post-Christmas table. All three are extremely easy to prepare, possibly even at the same time. The mustard seeds  need an overnight soak but otherwise this trio of condiments is straightforward. They also require a minimum of kitchen skills, so shouldn’t stress you out during the time of year when many home cooks are up to their eyes in fiddly cake decorating and gingerbread house making (that isn’t me though).

I hope you have time to make at least one of these recipes, but even if you bookmark them for later you will find them a useful and tasty addition to the table, whatever the season. I will definitely keep all three handy for jazzing up our Christmas leftovers. If there are any. There’s a reason why some men willingly do the washing up… Continue reading

Tawny Seville Orange Marmalade

bitten toast with marmalade and coffeeI really wish someone would invent Smell-o-vision for computers, then you could smell what I smell. The gorgeous, heady scent of simmering Seville oranges has to be one of the most pleasant aromas – ever. Earlier today, as the fruits were bubbling away I nipped upstairs (sounds a very daring dereliction of marmalade duties, but it was the pre-sugar stage) and found the aroma was even more powerful up there. I was sorely tempted to lay down with one of my sunbeam-comatose cats and forget the preserve making altogether. But I didn’t and here I am with a dozen jars of deep amber marmalade cooling on a table, ready for labelling – and slathering.

The odd thing is that until recently I didn’t even like marmalade. I would describe myself as ‘not a marmalade person’, just as people here in the UK may also describe themselves as ‘not a Marmite person’. Love or hate territory; nothing in between. My wonderful neighbour Kath, a retired catering manager, faithfully brings over a jar – or three – of homemade marmalade at this time of year. Kath knows that I don’t indulge because ‘I am not a marmalade person’ but that Mr A and Miss R love it. Mr A goes through an embarrassing amount of Kath’s marmalade. One recent early morning however,  I accidentally put some of Kath’s marmalade on toast. How do you accidentally put marmalade on toast, you may ask. Before you surmise that I was hung-over (I don’t do hung-over) I must say in my defence that it was still pitch-black outside, and with dodgy kitchen lighting I mistook marmalade for my beloved apricot and vanilla jam. The thing was, I really liked it. Surprised, yes, but pleased. The marmalade I had eaten before must have been mass-produced, shop bought stuff. You know the kind – all sugar, no bite rubbish. This was still sweet, but it had an underlying bitterness that was very appealing. I have since fallen in love with my friend Deirdre’s dark marmalade and asked for her recipe. Quasi-scientist that I am, I also looked at a number of recipes (all vaguely similar) and techniques (wildly differing) before combining my own instincts with elements of Deirdre’s recipe and some from Pam ‘the Jam’ Corbin’s  recipe found in Preserves. So, here I am, surrounded by jars of dark, toffee-ish Seville orange marmalade wondering how many salad-only days I must endure to make up for the obscene amount of toast and marmalade I will go through today.jars of seville orange marmalade

The Science Bit: Available from mid-January to the end of February, Seville oranges (Citrus auranitum) are strictly for marmalade and medicinal purposes. In the interests of research I tasted a little raw juice, and gagged – don’t be as foolish as me. In common with other oranges, Seville oranges are great sources of Vitamin C and fibre, but also have useful amounts of some B vitamins, beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, lutein (for eyes), potassium and tumour-preventing beta-sitosterol, hersperetin and naringenin. The high amount of pectin found in Seville oranges are not only great for achieving ‘set’ with marmalade (you should never have to add commercial pectin) but it also binds to some carcinogens that are produced in the gut and carries them out of the body. When ephedra was banned some ‘natural’ weight loss medicines started adding bitter orange extract in its place, but clinical trials have shown it to be a dud and potentially dangerous in higher amounts. I would stick with the marmalade.

Sterilising Jars: Seeing a gleaming row of homemade marmalades and jams lined up in the pantry (with the prettiest jar on your kitchen table) is such a satisfying sight. That all of those hours of hot boiling and stirring can produce something to enjoy for months to come is a great feeling. However, it will be marred by ruinous mould if the jars aren’t sterilised. Doing this is a bit of a bore but necessary to ensure your precious jellied nectar remains micro organism-free. There are probably at least three ways to sterilise your jars. My preferred method is to wash the jars and lids in very hot, soapy water, rinse them and put the jars only in a low oven (120C/250F) and the lids in just boiled water. ‘Bake’ and ‘soak’ for five minutes and dry the lids thoroughly before using. When making marmalade or jam it’s a good idea to do all of this just before  you need the jars, so they don’t have time to pick up any germs.

Almost Ready: This is where all the kerfuffle about marmalade comes into play. Some – like Delia Smith – favour an elaborate multi-stage rocket-science process that, to my mind, would suck all of the joy from preserve making. Whereas others I’ve read about are more of the scary chuck it all in with no timings given variety. I am in the MOR camp: proper measurements, some timings, but also using your nose and instincts. It seems to have worked for me on this recipe and with similar preserve recipes. If you like every step spelled out to you then the Delia one is the one to go for – it’s got many fans – but if you like the idea of trusting your instincts a little I hope you try this one.cut seville oranges and lemons

Tawny Seville Orange Marmalade

What You Need

1.5kg/3.3lbs Seville oranges, scrubbed and stem nubs removed

2 lemons, scrubbed

3kg/6.6lbs preserving sugar (or granulated sugar)

Knob of butter (about 25 g/2 tbsp)

Equipment: Large preserving pan, but any large, wide heavy-bottomed pan will do (stainless steel preferred); long-handled wooden spoon; more sterilised jars and lids than you think you’ll need (I use ‘hand-me-down’ jars so my collection is all shapes and sizes); muslin/jelly bag – or 2 x metre square pieces of muslin/fine cheesecloth + culinary twine; cutting board; large sharp knife; colander; large bowl; 2 saucers; large roasting tin (this is not a misprint); ladle

What You Do: Cut the fruits across  the segments. Put into the preserving pan with 3 litres/3.17 quarts of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 2 hours with the lid on. Halfway through the simmering heat your oven on very low (100C/212F), pour your sugar into a large roasting tin and heat the sugar for about one hour. This odd little trick will ensure that the sugar dissolves quickly when added to the remaining ingredients. You don’t have to do this but it does cut down on the time it take to boil and may help prevent the sugar from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is very useful with ordinary granulated sugar which dissolves more slowly than preserving sugar. At this time also pop your saucers into the fridge so that you can later test for set (that is to say, when the marmalade has achieved the right balance of solidity).

hulled out cooked seville orangesStrain the fruits into a colander and allow to cool enough to handle – keep the liquid. When cooled, scoop out the seeds and membrane from the fruits and place in the muslin bag, or a bowl/another colander lined with two muslin pieces. Take the peel and slice it into thick, medium or thin shreds, according to your own preference. I tackle this sticky task by stacking three scooped peels, slicing them in long quarters and then cutting finely across the quarters. Put the cleaned preserve pan on the hob/stove and add in the shreds and any clinging membrane (which will melt with slow cooking). Tie up the muslin cloths or muslin bag of seeds and pulp and add this to the pan. Measure the cooking liquid – hopefully you will have 1.7 litre. If not, add a little water to make this up, or strain off some if you have too much. Cover the shredded peel with the watery juice and add in the warmed sugar. Bring the pan to the boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.marmalade on hob with muslin bag

At this point you can have a delicious marmalade within about 15 minutes of boiling. And this may be what you want. But boil slowly – bubbles just breaking all over the surface – for a further hour and you will have a toffee-scented, almost dessert-worthy, marmalade. During this hour or so stir frequently to prevent the sugar burning. It may spit violently and foam up so I don a long silicone kitchen glove to prevent adding to my small family of arm and hand burns. When it reaches what I term as the toffee stage the smell will change so that the toffee smell overrides the orange smell. It will also look glossy and opaque.seville orange marmalade boiling up This is the moment to boil rapidly for a minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and take a saucer from the fridge. Place a teaspoon of marmalade on the saucer, allow it to cool for one minute, then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles you have set. If it doesn’t, re-boil for a further few minutes and test again. When it’s done, add in the knob of butter and stir in one direction until most of the scum disperses. Or you can skim it off with a slotted spoon rather than use the butter. Let the marmalade settle for 10 minutes before carefully ladling into sterilised jars.

Uses: On toast of course but also in cakes, as a topping for cakes, pancakes and steamed puddings, as a glaze for ham, in bread and butter pudding instead of the usual currants, in sandwiches with soft cheese. Pam Corbin recommends marmalade in sweet and sour chicken.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Makes 8 x 450g jars

single seville orange marmalade jar