A Cranberry Classic

This is my last blog before Christmas so I would thought I’d share a family recipe for cranberry sauce which is an essential part of a poultry centred Christmas luncheon and also goes so well with the Boxing Day cold cuts.
My Mum always made her cranberry sauce with port and orange. It was rich, sticky and looked just like Christmas, all shiny and red. For this recipe, I also followed Glynn Christian’s advice and added the sugar after the berries had softened, and I was very pleased with the result.
You’ll notice I also had the benefit of an enquiring audience from our family pooch ‘Bella’ who was very put out at not being allowed to help in creating some of the Christmas magic. I think she appreciated the smell of the cranberries bubbling away too.
IMG_3040_Fotor_Collage
Makes 950g–1kg sauce
600g fresh cranberries
250ml port or red wine
Julienne (thinly shredded) zest and juice of 1 orange
300g dark muscovado sugar
Combine the cranberries in a medium saucepan with the port and orange zest and juice. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the cranberries to bubble away merrily while you listen to Christmas carols and the skins soften on the fruit and begin to burst, approx. 10-15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. If it is very runny, put the pan back onto the heat and let the sauce boil away rapidly until it thickens to your liking. Allow to cool then bottle into a clean jar/s and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.
You can buy ‘The Gentle Art of Preserving’ online here.
 

Going Wild in the Country…

Earlier in October we held our second ‘Go Wild in the Country’ cookery courses at Bruern Cottages in the Cotswolds. The concept of the weekend was to teach a course that maximised on the fresh, seasonal produce available in the English countryside creating a range of dishes using local game, fish, vegetables and hedgerow foraged ingredients. Then using some of the preserving techniques and skills we wrote about in our book ‘The Gentle Art of Preserving’.
Smoked Salmon
A small group of 10 enthusiastic attendees took on a range of tasks from preparing salmon ready for hot and cold smoking to making sourdough bread, from making chutney to using local milk to make labneh.
Simply hot smoking tomatoes gave a whole new dimension to the fruit which became the centre piece of a simple salad.
Smoked Tomatos
It was a packed weekend and our guests were busy either cooking or eating for most of the waking hours. We took an early morning foraging expedition on the Sunday which proved (excuse the pun) pretty fruitless as a wet night previously meant the edible fungi were all in hiding, though we did find sloes and picked young nettles for nettle gnocchi. The season’s blackberries were on their way out and the squirrels had beaten us to the cob nuts but an early morning walk did wonders for blowing away the cobwebs and rejuvenating the appetite.
Nettle Gnochi
As our most recent book ‘Venice – Recipes Lost and Found’ was a week away from launch and very fresh in our minds we also cooked dishes from the book. Including a ‘Good Game Pie’ and the wonderfully different ‘Chicken with Ginger, Saffron and Dates’ which has its roots firmly in the spice trading past of the Venetians.
Good Game Pie
Of course no cookery weekend with the Caldesi’s would be complete without fresh pasta and we made many types, including tasty beetroot pasta which we stuffed with our own smoked bacon, ricotta and thyme… truly delicious!
Beetroot Pasta
We created so many dishes and explored so many different techniques of preserving over the weekend it would create a book in itself but high points included the sour dough breads which rose to the occasion e despite the starter foaming out of the kilner jar in the heat of the car as we travelled to Bruern.
Sour Dough
One of the reasons that both Giancarlo and I teach is that we really do love it when we ignite a spark for the passion for great food in people. We we’re therefore delighted when all the course attendees started an email chain after the course sending pictures of their efforts post course. From Barry who went home and built his own outdoor cold smoker using a rabbit hutch to Anne who took our starter and baked some delicious looking sour dough loaves and Sheila who recreated our Venetian apple cake.
Rabbit Smoker
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Apple Cake
Our next ‘Go Wild in the Country’ course will be in the Autumn of 2015 and details will be released next year. If you’d like to be kept up to date on dates and offers then subscribe to the Caldesi e-letters here.

Sloe Gin

“Slow” Gin and Tonic has a pretty pink glow – and so do I after drinking a couple of these! Above the pinky orange drinks are sloe gin, the deep purple one is a blackberry version.
Sloes are the berries of the blackthorn tree, which have a bluish purple bloom to them, making them appear like small dark grapes. Watch out for the slender thorns on the tree when you pick them, and never take all you can see – leave some for the birds. Just a few handfuls will be enough for a winter’s supply of that delicious Christmas tipple of sloe gin.
Ideally pick the berries after the first frost, because this freezing tenderises the skins, a job which used to be done by pricking each once individually. Alternatively pop them in the freezer overnight and let electricity do Jack Frost’s job for once. After a quick rinse in cold water they are ready to use.
After making this year’s supply I asked one of my children to write the label for me. I never thought to spell it for him but actually it makes me smile every time I read “Slow Gin”!

Blue sloes are just ripe for picking now.

Blue sloes are just ripe for picking now.

Some expert advice from a fellow gin fanatic!
I took some advice from Jared Brown from the artisan distillers Sipsmith, who make their own excellent sloe gin. This is what he suggests:
The usual way to make sloe gin and similar drinks is to put the fruit, sugar and alcohol together in the bottle, and then gently shake it every other day for the first week until the sugar dissolves. The advantage of this method is that the job is done all in one go and all you have to do is sit back and wait for it to be ready. However, the only problem with this method is sometimes the resulting drink turns out to be too sweet. Jared recommends that you sweeten your drink after it has matured using sugar syrup, which you can add to the bottle little by little until you have the sweetness you like.
Makes 2 x 1 litre bottles or Kilner jars

  • 600g ripe sloes
  • 1 litre gin
  • 2 almonds, lightly crushed (optional, see above)

 
For the sugar syrup

  • 200g granulated cane sugar
  • 200ml water
  1. Wash the fruit and dry between 2 clean tea towels. Unless the berries were picked after the first frost (see above), put them in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight.
  2. The following day, bring the fruit out of the freezer and let it defrost. Divide the berries between your sterilised jars and top up with the gin.
  3. Drop an almond into each jar (if using). Put on the lids and transfer the jars to a cool, dark cupboard.
  4. Shake the bottles gently every other day for the first week, and then leave them alone for at least 3 months to mature and up to one year.
  5. After this time, strain out the sloes and discard them. You can then return the liqueur to the same bottle to mature for several years before sampling; it will mellow with time.

 
Sample the gin and add sugar syrup to taste
Once you are ready to start drinking your sloe gin, prepare the sugar syrup. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan over a medium heat, and then set aside to cool. Add the concentrated sugar syrup to the bottle, little by little, stirring thoroughly and tasting regularly until you are happy with the sweetness – you may not need it all. Store in a cool, dark place for 3 months and up to 3 years.
Sloe Gin
Recipe extracted from our latest book The Gentle Art of Preserving published by Kyle Books 2013.

Stubborn Green Tomatoes

Use them up in this wonderful Indian chutney called Tomato Kasundi taken from our latest cookbook of recipes called The Gentle Art of Preserving. My favourite way to serve this dish is heated with halved boiled eggs, dollops of Greek yogurt and a generous scattering of coriander. It is so tasty and a real pretty dish, I’m going to make three times the amount next time tomatoes are in season.
Makes approx. 6 x 340ml jars

  • 3kg ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons black mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds?200g fresh ginger, peeled
  • 100g garlic, peeled?2–3 red chillies, depending on the heat you prefer
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • 600ml malt vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 500g soft light brown sugar

First prepare the tomatoes. Make a cross in the bottom of each tomato ?and remove the green core. Plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds–1 minute, remove with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into very cold water.

Peel off the skins, cut each tomato in half, scoop out the seeds and discard. Chop the flesh roughly and set aside in a bowl.

Toast the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in a dry pan for 3–4 minutes until they start to pop and release their aroma. Tip them into a mortar and pestle and grind to a rough powder. Place the ginger, garlic and chillies together in a food processor and blend to a coarse purée.
stubborn-green-tomatoes-3
Add the spices to the food processor along with approx. 200ml of the vinegar and blend again.
Heat the sunflower oil in a heavy- based pan, scoop in the paste and?fry for a few minutes to release the fragrance. Add the remaining vinegar with the salt and sugar followed by the tomatoes. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking on the bottom. The chutney is ready when it reaches the trail stage meaning that you can draw a line in it with a spoon and the line stays there.

Taste and adjust the salt and chilli as necessary before bottling into warm, sterilised jars. Seal with vinegar-proof plastic lined lids, label and store the dish in a cool, dark place for up to a year. You can eat this wonderful dish with curries, cheese or heat up and use as a sauce.