Plum-rosemary jam

File 24-01-2016, 7 56 03 PM

It’s the time of the year when our damson plum tree is laden with tiny tart plums that suddenly ripen over a few hot days. Last week, or was it the week before (!), I picked around 6kg of plums to make jam. The plum-ginger-lime jam is always a favourite with my family, the kids love it on their toast, so half of the plums went into making a new batch of that one.

With the other half, though, I wanted to try something new. I came across a recipe on the blog Eat the Love for a strawberry-plum-rosemary jam which sounded intriguing, and that sent me on a Google-Pinterest hunt for more plum-rosemary jam recipes. In the end I grabbed a little of this and that, and came up with my own version, using fresh rosemary from my garden and a lemon from a friend’s lemon tree.

I was mindful that rosemary can be quite overpowering so I took it out after the initial cooking of the plums. It’s given the jam a wonderfully subtle herbal note, a hint of rosemary that complements the tart sweetness of the plums. I wonder how it would go on scones with a bit of crème fraiche instead of double cream?

Out of 6kg of plums, I now have around 20 jars of jam, in various sizes and two flavours. Half of them are for the school fete, the rest are for us. And I’ve still got a kilo of plums to play with, might be time for a batch of plum ice cream!

File 24-01-2016, 7 55 24 PM

Plum-Rosemary Jam
2 kg damson plums, washed, stems removed
1 large lemon, juice and zest
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2 cups water
1.75 kg sugar

Put whole plums, lemon zest and juice, whole rosemary sprigs and water into large non-reactive pot.

Bring to boil over medium-high heat and reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the plum skins have split and the flesh is soft.

Remove from heat and mash plum mixture with a potato masher. After 10-15 minutes more, remove the rosemary and discard. Allow to cool and then remove plum stones (see notes below).

Bring plum mush back to the boil over medium-high heat. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.

Allow to boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes, until jam “jells” (see notes below). Skim off any scum that forms and remove any plum stones that come to the surface. When it is ready, take off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes or so while the jars are set up.

Pour jam into hot sterilised jars and seal (see notes below). Recipe makes about 3-3.5 L of jam.

Notes

1. I have found the best way to remove plum stones is to use a slotted spoon to scoop up plum mixture and a smaller spoon (or clean fingers) to pull out stones. It’s a tedious job, but stones that are missed can usually be pulled out when the jam mixture is boiling—they seem to get tossed up to the surface by the rolling boil. If necessary, the stewed fruit can be refrigerated overnight until ready to perform the next step.

2. I use two methods to determine when my jam has jelled. First of all, put a couple of saucers in the freezer before starting to make the jam. Then, I regularly scoop up a bit of jam onto the wooden spoon and then slowly tip the spoon sideways to see if the droplets run together to form a “sheet” of jam. When that happens I grab a saucer from the freezer and drop a little bit of jam onto it. Back into the freezer for a couple of minutes and then push your finger into the jam—when it wrinkles up it has jelled. Better to underdo it slightly and have slightly runnier jam than overcook it.

3. I sterilise my jars and lids by washing in very hot soapy water. The jars are then placed upright on a baking paper-lined tray and popped into the oven, which has been set to 120ºC or thereabouts. I remove the jars just before I pour the jam into them, then screw the lids on tight and turn them upside down to cool down.

Advertisements

The Great Olive Experiment Part 1

IMG_9763

My Mum arrived at my house last week with an enormous box of olives from my aunt and uncle’s garden. I’d nearly forgotten that they were going to give me some, so it took me a bit by surprise, and more so when I saw just how many there were. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of the box, but there were quite a few kilograms of them, ranging from green to deep dark purply-black.

Now, the last time I tried curing olives it involved soaking them in water and changing it every other day or so for weeks and weeks. Needless to say it wasn’t the success I’d hoped for, too many of the olives went bad and the texture of the rest wasn’t great. I think they were way too ripe (they came from a neighbour’s tree—I’d rescued them from being thrown out). So this time, I immediately hopped online to figure out the best way to cure them. Most recipes advocated soaking them in brine—essentially very salty water—for weeks. I also found some recipes for dry-curing or as it is sometimes called, “oil-curing”, which doesn’t actually involve oil, instead you pack the olives in salt. Armed with a lovely blogpost describing both methods, I gathered my ingredients and equipment, girded my loins and waded in.

Sadly, a lot of the olives were a little the worse for wear, bruised and dented. So I sorted through to pick out the least damaged ones and divided them into a batch of green to purple olives and a batch of purply-black olives. Don’t worry, there were still plenty of olives in each batch. According to all of the information I read online, the green ones have more of the bitter glucosides than the black ones, and hence need more soaking, so I decided to do the green-purple batch in brine and the purple-black ones in salt.

There really isn’t much to either method, so I’m not going to write a recipe, just list the steps.

  1. Wash the olives and then use a sharp knife to slit them so that the bitter compounds can escape more easily.
  2. For the brined olives, pack them into a large jar, then cover with brine (warm up water in a saucepan, then dissolve enough salt into it so that an egg—raw and still in its shell—floats, then let it cool.). Use a ziplock bag containing water to press the olives down into the solution if you need to.
  3. For the dry-cured olives, layer olives and salt in a jar so that all of the olives are completely covered in the salt.
  4. Put both batches in the cupboard and give them a good shake every week or so.
  5. Start tasting the brined batch after a few weeks, keep tasting regularly until they start to taste like salty olives, not bitter ones.
  6. Start tasting the salt-packed olives after about three weeks, again, taste regularly until you like the taste.
  7. Rinse off the brine/salt, and repackage in more brine, or vinegar or olive oil. I’ll let you know what I do here when I get to that point.
  8. Eat!

In case you’re wondering, I used pure salt (no added iodine) from the supermarket. Nothing fancy, because I used around 3.5 kg of it, close to 3 kg in the salt-packed batch and another 0.5kg in the brine. I have two 2L jars of the salt-packed olives and a 3L jar that is about two-thirds full for the brined batch.

I’ll keep you updated as the curing progresses. Wish me luck!!

 

The ham and the jam

One of the first recipes I posted on this blog almost two years ago was a spicy plum jam, redolent with cinnamon, cloves and anise. At the time I made it I mentioned that it would probably make a great addition to a glaze for the baked Christmas ham. Well I can report back that indeed it does! In fact, I used it on both last year’s and this year’s hams to great effect.

My starting point for the glaze was a recipe I had in an old copy of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. The original recipe was for a Burnt Honey, Orange and Clove Ham, but in the magazine article, a number of alternative glaze ideas were provided including the apricot and cardamom version I chose to base my spicy plum glaze on. It’s a quick and easy glaze to prepare and the cooking of the ham itself is a doddle. I prefer to cook it earlier in the day, or even the day before Christmas as it’s not necessary to have a warm ham for Australia’s summer Christmas, but in any case it only takes an hour.

The resulting ham has a deliciously sweet and spicy glaze, and looks a treat as well, with caramelised edges.

Christmas Ham Collage

Spicy plum glazed ham

Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller (December 2006, p 39)

Serves 10+

250ml jar of spicy plum jam
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 c water
ham leg (on the bone)
 

Combine the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat. Strain through a sieve and cool.

Preheat oven to 180C. Remove skin from ham and discard. Score fat in a diamond pattern and place ham on a rack in a large roasting tray, half-filled with water .

Brush the glaze generously over the ham and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Baste frequently during the roasting process to get a good rich glaze.

Serve the ham hot or cold.

Notes:

1. Depending on how spicy your jam is, you may want to add more or less cardamom to taste.

2. The amount of glaze will be enough for a full ham leg, although I usually only cook a half leg.

3. The ham will keep refrigerated for quite a few days if you wrap it in a ham bag, tea towels or old pillowcases soaked in cold water and white vinegar. Change the wraps every couple of days. Alternative, freeze chunks of it to bring out as required.

4. If you like, you can stud the scored ham with cloves in the centre of each diamond before baking.

Christmas Eve Smoked Chicken and Mango Salad

This year, Christmas Eve in my house was a busy day of running around sandwiched between two family celebrations. Amid what seemed like countless trips to the supermarkets, an emergency dash to my folks’ house to rescue an esky (cooler) full of perishable food left behind by my sister, and of course, wrapping presents, I was relieved that dinner was already sorted.

About 15 years ago, my parents moved back to Australia after a stint living in the US. Along with all their other stuff, they brought a smoker with them, which gets dragged out at least once every year to smoke chickens, fish and sometimes other goods for Christmas feasts. My sister and I both requested a chicken this year and this is what I had in mind for Christmas Eve.

In addition to the chicken, I had a few ripe mangoes left over from a box I received a couple of weeks ago and some lovely fresh greens purchased at the South Melbourne Market on Monday morning. So I dug out a recipe for a smoked chicken salad that I first discovered a few years ago on the taste.com.au website (a great starting point for almost any kind of recipe you could imagine) and adapted it to suit the ingredients I had.

This is a recipe that is open to a lot of variation—you could add whatever greens you prefer (the original uses iceberg lettuce), choose different smoked meats (duck? salmon? trout?) or even swap out the smoked meat for fresh prawns. It looks great served on a platter, or divided among plates or bowls, and would be just as suitable as an entrée salad as a light main course.

As for this version? It made for a perfectly delicious family dinner on Christmas Eve.

Smoked chicken and mango salad

Smoked Chicken and Mango Salad

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 4-6

1 smoked chicken
2 ripe mangoes
mixed greens
1/2 bunch of fresh mint, leaves torn
1 Lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 red capsicum/pepper, thinly sliced
 
Dressing:
200ml natural pot set yoghurt
2-3 tbs chopped coriander
2 tbs lime juice
1 tbs sweet chili sauce
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
 

Shred the chicken from the carcass. Cut the cheeks off the mango and slice the flesh thinly. Toss salad ingredients together in a large bowl.

Finely chop coriander and mix with yoghurt, lime juice and sweet chili sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer salad to a platter and drizzle with some of the dressing. Serve the remaining dressing on the side.

Notes:

1. I’m not a huge fan of raw onions, but spring onions (green onions) or thinly sliced red onions would be a great addition to the salad.

2. Use a combination of different greens—I started with a mixture of lettuces, then added baby spinach, rocket/arugula, a little radicchio and snow pea shoots.

3. To make the dressing in a flash, chop the coriander in a mini-food processor, add the other ingredients and whiz until combined.

Crunchy beef stew!

I haven’t posted a recipe in ages—not since the Christmas flurry! It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, I just haven’t had much time to cook anything exciting. It’s been more of that subsistence cooking we all fall back on when we’re busy.

Anyway, I was wandering through the supermarket last week looking for inspiration and saw the cover of the latest Australian Good Taste magazine, a gorgeous beef stew with a crunchy-garlic bread topping. Thankfully the weather has been cool of late, pulling me into a slow-cooking, hearty dinner kind of mode.

The basis of this recipe is a simple beef casserole, slowly cooked over 2.5 hours. It would make a great pie filling too. Then, Turkish bread, sliced and soaked in an eggy, cheesy, garlicky mixture topping the beef. And meltingly soft onion jam tucked in between the slices. All cooked until the bread is golden and crunchy. What’s not to like?

Serve it with a green salad, or a side of green beans.

Crunchy Beef Stew

Slow-cooked Beef with Onion Jam and Crunchy Garlic Bread

From Australian Good Taste Magazine, vol. 18 no. 5 (May 2013).

Serves 4-6

For the beef filling:
40 g plain flour
1.5 kg beef chuck steak, trimmed and cut into 5cm chunks
2-3 Tbs olive oil
400g can diced tomatoes
250 ml beef stock
185 ml red wine
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
300g bacon rashers, coarsely chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced 1cm-thick
 
For the onion jam:
1 Tbs olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 sprigs thyme
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
 
For the crunchy garlic bread topping:
3 eggs
250 ml milk
25g shredded parmesan cheese
1 Tbs fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
2 garlic cloves, crushed
300g Turkish bread, sliced 2cm thick
12 cherry tomatoes, tossed in olive oil and roasted for 30 minutes or so until soft.
 

To make the filling:

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Toss the beef with the flour and season with a little pepper. Heat 1 Tbs of the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Brown the beef in 3-4 batches, using more oil if necessary, and transfer to a 3.5L/10 cup capacity casserole dish or dutch oven.

Add the tomatoes, stock, wine, bay leaves, thyme to the dish, cover and bake for 2.5 hrs.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the bacon and leek. Stir for 5 minutes, until the leek softens, then add to the beef and stir to combine. Bake for another 30 minutes or so.

To make the onion jam:

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently until the onion starts to caramelise. Add the sugar and vinegar and stir for 3 minutes until the mixture thickens and the liquid evaporates.

To make the crunchy garlic bread topping and assemble:

Use a couple of forks to shred the beef into smaller pieces. Spoon half of the beef filling into 1.75L/7 cup overproof dish or pan. Freeze remaining beef mixture for another use.

Whisk the eggs, milk, parmesan, parsley and garlic in a bowl and season with pepper. Soak each piece of bread in the egg mixture until soggy (about 30 secs) and place on top of the beef, overlapping slightly.

Spoon the onion mixture around and in between the bread slices, and pour over the remaining egg mixture. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the bread is crunchy and golden.

Scatter the tomatoes across the dish and serve.

Notes:

1. For a larger crowd, use all of the beef mixture and double the bread and onion jam. Otherwise, the leftover beef can be used to make another crunchy beef stew or served over rice or mashed potatoes, or even used as a pie filling.

2. Roast the tomatoes at the same time as the assembled dish. Small truss tomatoes can be used instead of individual cherry tomatoes.

Christmas treats for everyone

Well, Christmas has come and gone, the leftovers are have been eaten (or stored in the freezer), the tree has been undecorated, and the wrapping paper is in the recycling bin. But I did promise to share my recipe for the best chocolate truffle slice ever, and I’m going to start off with a recipe for a super quick and easy sweet treat.

This treat is something I found on Pinterest and made for my younger daughter to take on her last day of school as a birthday treat (her birthday is in late December) to give her class mates instead of cupcakes. You could even pop these onto the side of a mug of hot chocolate to pep up a warm treat!

IMG_2737lores

There’s no real recipe for this one, simply poke a candy cane into each marshmallow, dip the bottom of the marshmallow into a bowl of melted chocolate, and roll in crushed up candy canes (it’s quite therapeutic banging away at a zip-lock bag of candy canes with a rolling pin!). The chocolate sets quite quickly and they can be piled up in a bowl, or if the marshmallow is big enough (mine weren’t) stood up on their bases.

Now, back to that chocolate raspberry truffle slice. It’s amazing. I kid you not. The only thing that stops me from gobbling the whole lot down in one sitting is that it is so incredibly rich, that I physically can’t eat more than a couple of pieces at a time.  And it’s easy too. The hardest part is sieving out the seeds from the raspberry mixture.

Now, you will need to seek out fresh raspberries for this one, as the frozen variety tend to be a little too juicy. Sadly, that means it’s not going to be particularly suitable for the Northern Hemisphere at Christmas, but I urge you to think about making it when raspberries are at their peak! Use a good quality dark chocolate too, it’s definitely worth it.

IMG_2740lores

Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Slice

Adapted from a recipe first published in Australian Gourmet Traveller, December 2006.

Makes approximately 60 squares

300g fresh raspberries
200ml pouring cream
50ml Framboise
600g dark chocolate
Dutch process cocoa (optional)

Combine 200g raspberries with the cream and Framboise in a small saucepan, and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Process in a food processor and then pass through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

Clean and dry the food processor and add chocolate, broken into chunks. Process until the chocolate is finely chopped.

Transfer the sieved mixture to a clean saucepan and bring back to the boil. With the motor running, pour the raspberry-cream mixture into the food processor and process until smooth.

Pour about half of the chocolate mixture into a baking paper-lined 20cm X 30 cm tray. Scatter the remaining raspberries evenly across the tray and pour over the rest of the chocolate mixture. Use a spatula to make sure the top is smooth and the depth is relatively even.

Refrigerate overnight, then use a warm knife to cut the truffles into squares and if desired dust with cocoa. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Notes:

1. I find that if I want to double this recipe I really need to do two batches, as that much liquid won’t fit into my food processor.

2. Sieving the raspberry-cream mixture is difficult. If your sieve has very small holes, it can help to sieve it through a coarser sieve first. And a spoon is useful to gently push the liquid through the sieve too.

3. The original recipe called for dark chocolate with 57% cocoa solids. I can’t always get this percentage, so sometimes I mix two different dark chocolates, say a 50% and a 70% to get a good flavour.

4. If the raspberries are large, they can be gently broken apart (NOT crushed) before scattering over the chocolate mixture.

5. In theory this will last in the fridge for up to a month if stored in an airtight container. I challenge you to keep it for that long!

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas…

IMG_2781lores

Ah, the smells of Christmas. Many years ago, when pot pourri was still fashionable, I had a wonderful mixture that smelled of Christmas. I would put it out in early December, and each night when I got home from work, the spicy fruity smell would welcome me in the door.

The real thing, of course, is Christmas baking. The heady fragrance of the Boozy Christmas pudding mix that wafts up as you stir it. The warm smells of a rich and spicy Christmas cake as it slowly cools.

There are so many recipes for fruit cake, and I’ve certainly tried a few. But this one is my keeper. It’s a boiled fruitcake from Aussie cookbook author Belinda Jeffrey that was published in Australian Home Beautiful magazine a few years ago. The beauty of the recipe is its flexibility—the types of fruit included can be varied to include any combination of raisins, sultanas, currants, prunes, dates, apricots, and other dried fruits; similarly the liquids can be varied to include orange and lemon juice, brandy, rum, port, to your tastes.

One of the main ingredients in this fruitcake recipe is fruit mince, and I’ve included a recipe for a homemade version as well, although a good quality store-bought fruit mince will work just as well. This recipe also comes from an Australia cookbook writer, the beloved-by-many Margaret Fulton.

I’m not one for the traditional marzipan icing and fake holly leaves. I don’t even make a nice pattern of almonds and pecan nuts on the top of the cake. It’s all about the rich, dark, fruity, dense cake for me.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and all the best for a Happy New Year!!!

lo-res

Christmas Cake

Adapted from a recipe by Belinda Jeffrey, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes 2 Christmas cakes, 20cm diameter.

1 large lemon, zest finely grated, juice reserved
1 large orange, zest finely grated, juice reserved
495ml brandy or cognac
450g butter
540g dark brown sugar
1200g mixed dried fruit—for example, raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped apricots, chopped prunes, diced dates, candied fruit peel, glace fruit)
555g fruit mince (see recipe below)
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 heaped tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cloves
3 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp almond extract
6 eggs
570g wholemeal flour
blanched almonds and pecan halves for decorating (optional)
extra brandy/cognac

Measure out lemon and orange juice and add 1/2 c water to it, then pour in brandy until mixture measures 900ml total. Add the zest and set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat in large saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture is wet and slushy. Add the dried fruit, fruit mince, bicarbonate of soda and reserved juice mixture and stir to mix. Increase heat to high and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then stop stirring and bring the mixture to the boil. Allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid the frothy mixture boiling over. Then turn off the heat and allow to cool completely in the saucepan.

Preheat oven to 150C. Grease 2 20cm round deep cake tins with butter and line with a double thickness of baking paper.

Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, cloves, vanilla and almond extracts to the cooled mixture and stir. Add eggs and stir in well. Mix in flour and stir to thoroughly combine, then allow batter to sit for a few minutes before scraping it into the two prepared tins.

If desired, decorate the tops of the cakes with almonds and pecans arranged in concentric circles.

Bake the cakes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, approximately 1.5 hrs. Check the cakes periodically during cooking, and cover with foil once the tops are a good rich brown colour.

Leave the cakes to cool completely in the tin, on a rack. Remove from the tin, and brush the base and the top with brandy/cognac, then wrap in cling wrap and foil. To prolong the life of the cake, store in the fridge.

Notes:

1. The boiled fruit mixture can be cooled overnight if that is convenient.

2. The top of the cake will feel firm when lightly pressed when it is fully cooked.

3. The cake will last in the fridge for at least a couple of months.

Fruit Mince

Adapted from a recipe by Margaret Fulton, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes approximately 4.5 cups.

1.5 c raisins
1.5 c currants
1.5 c sultanas
1/3 c blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1 apple, grated
3/4 c brown sugar
75g unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c brandy or rum
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 orange, zest and juice

Process dried fruit and almonds in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Spoon into a bowl and combine with grated apple, sugar, butter, brandy, spices and orange juice and zest. Mix well.

Cover and chill, stirring daily for at least 2 days before use.

Notes:

1. Fruit mince will last for several months in the fridge. Give it a stir now and then.

2. This recipe is actually half of the original recipe, but I find I don’t use it all up (I’m not one for making fruit mince tarts). I have enough left over after making the cakes to make a batch or two of fruit mince muffins.