Tag Archives: summer

DIY Jam

13 Aug

After extended empirical study, I have determined that this recession has been very good for food. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities in more traditional careers, many people my age have turned to DIY food as an alternative option. You only have to walk around my neighborhood to see the results: Broadway Market on a Saturday is full of people making their own ice lollies (popsicles for my fellow Yanks) and hot chocolate mixes, and down the road from me is a bakery run by escaped academics which makes some of the best bread I’ve ever had.

Those of you awaiting my announcement that I’m about to start my own business will be disappointed for the moment. But I do find all of this foodie creativity really inspiring, and this past weekend I scratched the itch by making jam.

A crimson sea, or blackberry jam in progress.

Now, you’re probably wondering why anyone would bother standing over a hot stove cooking fruit and sugar when I could just walk around the corner and buy a really nice jar of conserve instead? Well, partially because the process is fun, especially when you do it with friends. Though you might end up sprawled out on the couch afterwards from all the sugar you’ve consumed.

Before the crash.

Also, homemade jam reaches levels of deliciousness of which store-bought stuff can only dream, especially when you’ve got fruit at its peak. Observe the below:

Blackberry on the left, strawberry on the right.

I mean, would you look at the color of that blackberry jam! That stuff is crimson. And the taste: sweet and rich, but with enough tanginess to keep you wanting more. Don’t get me wrong – blackberry jam from the store is perfectly nice, but this stuff is in another league entirely.

If I’ve convinced you and you want to start making your own jam, the best guide is the River Cottage Handbook on Preserves by Pam Corbin. All the recipes work exactly as they’re written, but she also gives plenty of information about technique so that you can wing it if you are so inclined.

Speaking of winging it, the proportions I tried made a jam that was very thick (though still fine for spreading). If you like a runnier jam, I’d suggest replacing 400g/14.5oz of the jam sugar with regular granulated sugar, and also performing the set test after only a minute or two at the rolling boil.

Result!

Berko Blackberry Jam (thanks to Sophie G for the name, and for hosting our jam-making afternoon)

Makes 3 454g/1lb jars

1kg/2.2lbs blackberries
1.15kg/2.5lbs jam sugar
120ml/ 0.5 cup fresh lemon juice

1. Rinse your berries, then in a big bowl thoroughly crush them to a pulp using a potato masher.

2. Using a spoon with a flat-ish bottom, push the blackberry pulp through a fine sieve into your jam pan. It’s best to do this in 3-4 goes, scraping the remaining seeds out of the sieve each time. (This may seem like a real faff, but if you leave the seeds in, the jam will be crunchier than a hippie eating granola.)

3. Put the jam pan over low heat on the hob until the blackberry puree comes to a gentle simmer. Add the jam sugar, and stir it into the blackberries until it dissolves completely.

4. Add the lemon juice, then whack the heat up to high and bring the mixture up to a rolling boil.

5. Leave to boil for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and do the set test.*

6. Pour into sterilised jars, then put the lids on and leave to cool.

*Methods vary wildly for how to test when your jam is set. The best method I have found is the following:

1. When you’re starting to make your jam, put 3-4 saucers in the freezer to get really good and cold.

2.Once you’ve got your jam to a rolling boil and kept it there for 5 minutes, or however long your recipe suggests, grab one of the cold saucers, plop a little jam on it, then turn the heat off under the pan.

3. Stick the plate back in the freezer, count to 60, then take it out again. When you push it with your finger, it should form little bumps/crinkles.

4. If it doesn’t, crinkle put the plate aside, whack the heat back up to high under the jam, count to 60, then repeat with another cold saucer.

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The Book of Chinese Chicken Salad

10 Aug

In the beginning…

There was nothing but darkness. Well, not quite darkness. But there were sullen grey clouds, that would drift across the sky and occasionally spit rain at inconvenient, umbrella-less moments.

And the Lord said, “I’m THIS CLOSE to cancelling summer entirely, unless you lazy, whiny people do something amazing to change my mind.”

And the people sent their athletes to compete on the water and in the velodrome and on the track, and won many victories over the other nations. And the people were simultaneously jubilant and incredulous. They said to each other “How is this happening? We never win ANYTHING! WOOHOO!”

And the Lord muttered, “Bunch of show-offs.”

And then said, “Well done! Let there be light!”

And there was light! And the people rejoiced, revealed their pasty flesh, and frolicked in the fields and on the pavements and on the beaches.

And this writer made chicken salad. Not just any chicken salad, though. No mayonnaise in this baby. Just shredded poached chicken, dressed with a mildly spicy, super-savoury Sichuanese dressing, and served over sliced cucumbers.

And she saw that it was good. Very, very good.



Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuanese Sauce (adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking)


Serves 2 as a light dinner

300-350g/0.75 pounds cold, cooked chicken breast (I poached mine, but leftovers from a roast would work, too)
3 spring onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
0.25 tsp salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1.5 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
1.5 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp chicken stock
4 tbsp Sichuanese chili oil, with 0.5 tbsp of the sediment from the bottom of the jar
0.5 tsp ground Sichuan pepper
15-20 1cm cucumber slices

1. Shred the cooked chicken, and put it in a big bowl with spring onions and salt. Toss to combine.

2. Toast the sesame seeds on a low heat on the hob until they go a few shades darker and smell nutty.

3. Combine the other ingredients in a small bowl.

4. When ready to eat, add the dressing and the sesame seeds to the chicken mixture, and toss to combine. Lay out the cucumber slices on two small plates, then divide the chicken between them. Serve, and enjoy.

Note: You can find the vinegar, chili oil, and peppercorns at any Chinese market. They will keep nearly indefinitely.

Seasonal Process

7 Aug

A step-by-step guide to make a plateful of summer:

1. After you’ve eaten breakfast, thinly slice some garlic and chop some basil into ribbons, and put them in a very big bowl with a hearty slug of good olive oil.

2. Go to work. Or, if you’re me, go to your nearest café/bakery and write more of this blog, then wander around random neighborhoods of London searching for more material for said blog and generally passing the time.

3. Return home after work/moseying. Your kitchen will smell like at Italian grandmother’s been cooking while you were out. After taking a deep whiff, chop up from two to four of the ripest, squidgiest tomatoes you can find and mix them with the garlic, basil, and oil.

4. Do whatever it is you do post-work; go the gym, run out to the supermarket, or watch the festival of minor sports currently appearing on most television channels.

5. When you’re good and hungry, boil some salted water and add a small fistful of spaghetti (not whole wheat – I normally love the chewy, nutty stuff, but it doesn’t work for this dish.)

6. While the spaghetti is cooking, cut a ball of mozzarella into cubes the size of your top thumb joint. When that’s done, run back and watch another five minutes of athletics.

7. Drain the pasta, then pour it on top of the tomato-garlic-basil mixture. Scatter the cheese over the spaghetti. Toss the spaghetti and cheese together first, then bring the tomatoes up from the bottom of the bowl.

8. Serve. Eat with lots of appreciative groaning. When you’ve finished with the pasta, pick up your plate and slurp the rest of the tomato-garlic dressing like a ten-year old drinking cereal milk.

9. Repeat for all of August and a chunk of September.

(Serves 2. For the less personalized version of this recipe, visit The Wednesday Chef.)

Absence and Berry Cakes

31 Jul

(So, where on earth have I been for the past four months? Well, I was a food-related fundraising intern for a wonderful organisation called Action Against Hunger, working with restaurants to join a campaign which the charity runs in September and October. Interning full-time meant that blogging fell down my To Do list, but I hope to make up for that over the coming weeks. If I have any readers left, in the immortal words of Sam Cooke, bring it on home to me! Now, the main event…)

Unlike 99.99% of the world population, I do not believe that fresh raspberries and blueberries are a sign that the God of summer loves us and wants us to be happy. I don’t find them offensive, just squidgy and kind of bland. I do have fond memories of picking fresh blackberries at summer camp and eating them churned into vanilla ice cream, but that’s kind of it.

But it’s summer after all, so I decided to confront my own prejudice and bake with berries. First I made a batch of raspberry-rhubarb muffins from the Flour Bakery cookbook by Joanne Chang as a birthday present for my father. Second was a raspberry-blackberry Bundt cake, based on a recipe from the ever-excellent Smitten Kitchen. Apologies for the lack of photographs – both recipes turned out less-than-photogenic due to some serious pan-sticking issues, and I was on holiday and feeling lazy.

(Also, I find as I get older than I’m becoming more of a cook than a baker. A less generous person would attribute it to my shortening attention span, but I’d like to think that I’m becoming more relaxed and generally willing to go with the flow. But the simplest explanation is that I’m out of practice.)

Despite all the messiness, both recipes turned out delicious. They work on a similar principle: make a vanilla-scented cake batter (the muffins included lots of melted butter, eggs, crème fraiche, and whole milk), then stir through whatever berries tickle your fancy. When baked, the berries (and rhubarb) become jammy pockets of tartness that refresh you in the midst of rich, moist, very sweet cake. It’d make a perfect mid-morning snack with a cup of strong, milky coffee.

A cake so good I couldn’t resist taking a bite before photographing it.

So will you find me locked away scarfing carton after carton of raspberries, eyes gleaming with the fervor of the newly converted? Well, no. But berries and I are now on nodding terms, and that’s an improvement!