Saturday, 17 November 2012

Cooking up a storm

I had a bit of free time a couple of days ago so I decided to make a start on trialling my Christmas present recipes. I thought I’d give you a rundown on the effectiveness (or otherwise!) of the items I’ve tried out so far.

Salted caramel lollies / praline lollies
Such a basic recipe it seems hard to get wrong, but I managed to ruin the first batch. The secret appears to be patience, something I don’t have much of.

Lay some greaseproof paper over cookie sheets. The sheets will get hot so put them on something so they don’t burn your countertop!

Put 150g of golden granulated sugar into a saucepan (not a dark based pan, you need to be able to see the colour of the caramel). Melt the sugar VERY SLOWLY over a low heat and keep cooking it slowly until it turns dark gold. It takes a while to melt but providing it’s on a very low heat you don’t need to stand over it, just check it every few minutes. If it’s melting in one area and not another, you can swirl the pan gently. Add a pinch of sea salt flakes and stir gently.

If you want praline lollies, add chopped hazelnuts to taste. Then, working quickly, pour the caramel into blobs on the greaseproof paper and add lolly sticks (I used cut down wooden skewers – made sure there are no splintery bits if you do the same). Leave the lollies to set for a couple of minutes, and then peel off the paper. Don’t leave them for too long to set before removing the paper or it will stick to them.

Don’t be tempted to do a bigger batch as the caramel sets extremely quickly and you won’t have time to pour it all into lolly shapes before it sets in the pan. It also gets very hot so don’t dip your finger in to test it and keep the kids away.

These unusual, sticky little lollies are deceptive. We weren’t convinced when we first tried them but you develop a taste for them – we managed to eat the whole batch within an hour! I’m planning to invest in a silicone lolly mould for future batches as they all came out in different sizes and shapes. Good excuse to eat them all though!

Smoky paprika peppers
Slightly time consuming but not difficult to make, this recipe will produce three jars of beautiful jewel-bright peppers. They are not terribly cheap to make but they do look very professional and well presented when finished, and are definitely cheaper (and nicer) than buying them.

16 peppers (8 red, 8 yellow or a combination of red, orange and yellow)
500 ml olive oil
300 ml white wine vinegar
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp fennel seeds
Pinch of salt
300 ml water
3 jars with lids

Sterilise your jars. I washed them in the dishwasher, then put the jars top down in a cold oven and heated them to 160 degrees, then left them in the oven to cool until I needed them. With the lids, I boiled them in a saucepan of water for 10 minutes before leaving them in the water until I was ready.

Cut your peppers in half, leaving in the seeds and stalk. Place them cut side down on a grill pan and grill until the skins are blackened. Put the peppers in plastic food bags while they are still hot, tie the tops, and leave to one side.

Put the oil, garlic and paprika in a saucepan and heat gently for about 5 minutes. Leave to cool, then take out the garlic slices. You can strain off the paprika using muslin if you like but I left mine in for a stronger flavour. Dry fry the remaining spices in a frying pan for a minute then stir into the oil.

Once your peppers are cool enough to handle, pull out the stalks and seeds, and take off the skins. I find the easiest way to de-skin them is just to use my fingers. This bit is the time consuming and very messy bit, but it’s not hard to do. Tear the peppers into large pieces.

Put the vinegar and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Add your peppers, return to the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and pack into your jars. Reheat the paprika oil gently and pour over the peppers. Seal.

If you have sterilised your jars and put the lids on while they are still hot they should last a few months. Once opened, keep in the fridge and consume within two weeks.

I don’t like the taste of peppers but I really enjoyed making these. They look so gorgeous in the jars, I don’t want to open them!

Stem ginger in syrup, candied ginger, and ginger syrup
I’m doing these recipes in one go as the starting steps are the same. Cheap and easy to make although they have an extremely strong taste so only for real ginger fans!

1 lb root ginger
1 lb sugar + extra
Pinch of salt

Peel the ginger and chop. I did half in small chunks for the stem ginger and the rest in thin julienne strips for the candy. Put the ginger in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and repeat, simmering the ginger again.

Put the sugar, ginger, salt and a litre of water in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the liquid is the consistency of thin honey. Drain well, keeping the liquid.

Toss the julienne strips in granulated sugar and leave to dry out overnight. Store in a jar or box. These candies will keep for a few months.

Pack the chunks in sterilised jars and pour enough of the liquid over to cover. Seal. This will keep for up to a year if unopened. Store in the fridge once opened.

Pour the remaining liquid into sterilised jars and seal. This is your ginger syrup – try it warm over ice-cream or add to lemonade or sparkling water.

I’ve made a start but I’ve got loads more to try out yet. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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