Bacon Jam

BLT with Bacon Jam

Wotchers!

Bacon Jam has been around for a while on these here Internets, and there are numerous ways of preparing it. It is a highly savoury spread or relish that can be used in a multitude of ways. In the picture you can see a BLT toast sandwich prepared with bacon jam – much speedier than grilling bacon rashers. You can also stir it through rice or pasta for a frugal insta-meal, use it to top baked potatoes or spread over the bread of your fried egg sandwich.

This recipe is my own, and very much from the That’ll Do™ School of Cooking, in that you can be as extravagant or as miserly as you like, with the ingredients that you have.

You can also customise it to your own personal tastes – mine stretch to a few fresh red chillies to add a bit of feisty heat and to catch the eye, strong coffee, some Henderson’s Relish for sharpness and, contrary to a great many recipes, no added sugar (the kecap manis is sweet enough). Just because it’s called jam doesn’t mean you have to drown it in sugar. Call it a jam for all the things you can spread it on/in.

You can choose any cut of bacon you like: streaky rashers, back bacon, smoked or unsmoked. Personally I buy cooking bacon as it is ridiculously cheap (less than £2/kg). Some supermarkets (Sainsbury’s) occasionally have packs of cooking bacon that contain the trimmings and ends of gammon joints, and if you turn the packs over and there is a hint of orange about the meat, then you’ve got some smoked bacon in the mix. Others are just filled with chopped bacon trimmings, so it can be worthwhile rummaging around, as each batch can vary.

I cannot stress enough how much the recipe below is a rough framework. Got more bacon? Bung it in. Like caramelised onions? Add more. Garlic fiend? Shove a load in.

I prefer to blitz my bacon jam in the food processor down to the consistency of pesto. It makes it much easier, not to mention quicker, when using it in other things, but you might prefer to keep it chunky, so the individual ingredients can still be discerned.

Whilst this recipe WILL make some delicious bacon jam, it is what *I* consider delicious bacon jam, which might be quite far removed from what YOU consider delicious bacon jam. So you will probably need to tweak it to your own personal tastes. Below you will find a list of spices and relishes that you can add to find tune the basic recipe.

Important points to remember:

  • There is no right or wrong way to make bacon jam – it it totally up to you and your tastebuds.
  • Speaking of which, you HAVE to taste it as you go, and then decide firstly if it needs anything extra, and secondly, what that extra thing might be.
  • Don’t feel you have to add 101 extra ingredients – it is, first and foremost, supposed to taste of bacon. Don’t lose sight of that.
  • Another don’t – Don’t forget to write down what you add, as you might hit on a million pound winning combination and want to recreate it later!

This would make an ideal home-made gift for the upcoming festive season: just pack the finished hot jam into a hot, sterilised jar and seal with a layer of bacon grease/lard/clarified butter. It will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge if no-one knows what it tastes like. Good luck with that. 😉

This and the next few recipes are my contribution towards festive baking and making – delicious additions to your own table, delightful as presents for others. I hope you enjoy!

Suggestions for flavourings for your Bacon Jam

In addition to – or even instead of – the ingredients in the recipe below, you could add some of the following

  • Onions – brown, white, French, vidalia, red, shallots, spring onions, chives, garlic
  • Spices – chilli powder, coriander, cumin, paprika (sweet/smoked/hot), cayenne, mustard(dry, mixed, wholegrain, dijon, artisan), ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace
  • Sauces – Worcester sauce, anchovy essence, mushroom ketchup, walnut ketchup, light/dark soy (be careful, as v. salty, as is bacon), oyster sauce, Tabasco, hot sauce, sweet chilli
  • Sweeteners (just because I don’t like them, doesn’t mean you have to miss out – go easy, though) Maple syrup, light-brown sugar, muscovado sugar, treacle, molasses, agave nectar
  • Liquids – cider, beer ale, stout, whisky, brandy, ginger wine, bourbon, balsamic/sherry/rice/black/cider/red wine/white wine vinegar

Bacon  Jam

Bacon Jam should be warmed before use, to bring out the flavours. A quick zap in the microwave or toss in a pan is all it takes.

700g cooking bacon
2 onions, peeled and chopped – or halved & cut in semi-circles if you’re not blitzing to a pesto
4 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and finely diced.
250ml strong coffee
60ml kecap manis
2-3tbs Henderson’s Relish
1tsp coarse ground black pepper

  • Put the bacon into a pan and cook over medium heat. Use a spatula to break it up into smaller pieces. You can cook it as long or as short as you like, but I prefer well done, with specks of rusty caramelisation starting to appear, and the fat fully rendered.
  • Lift the bacon from the pan with a skimmer and drain in a metal sieve.
  • Add the onions and chillies and cook in the bacon fat ( for added flavour) until softened and caramelised. If you have a large excess of fat after the bacon has cooked, then drain some of it off, but I’ve never had that problem. Of course, this will also depend on the quantity of bacon you’re cooking.
  • Return the bacon to the pan and add the rest of the ingredients.
  • Simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Transfer to a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles a coarse pesto.
  • If you think there is too much liquid, return to the pan and simmer gently until the excess has evaporated.
  • Taste and add further flavourings as liked.
  • Spoon into jars and seal. Add a layer of melted fat if liked, to aid preservation.
  • Store in the fridge and use on everything.

 


Sausage Lasagne

Sausage Lasagne

Wotchers!

I love it when a plan comes together AND tastes fantastic – modest opener, no? In the endless round of needing to put a family meal on the table every day, there will obviously be some things that make repeat appearances on a regular basis. In this house, it’s sausages, and much as I love the great quality ones we buy (97% pork), just grilling or cooking them in a pan gets boring – mostly boring for me to make, but also a little dull to eat week in, week out.

So here’s a variation that’s just as tasty as sausages, but, more interestingly, in an equally delicious form: Sausage Lasagne! The already seasoned sausage meat goes so well with the robust tomato sauce and flavourful white sauce and – bonus – doesn’t need hours simmering on the stove top. I already had a batch of the tomato sauce in the freezer and lasagne sheets in the cupboard, and so only needed to whip up some white sauce to bring it all together. You can assemble the lasagne the day/night before and leave it overnight for the flavours to develop, or make it and bake it all in one go – after just one hour in the oven, it’s ready. I’ve added some healthy spinach to this recipe for a splash of eye-catching green, and the strong flavours of the sauces mean that the spinach can be easily passed off as parsley to suspicious family members.

*pokerface* Not that I’d ever do that.

*pokerface*

Moving quickly on…..

To speed things up, use your own white sauce and/or tomato sauce. I’m going to run through the recipes I used for both, purely as suggestions. The tomato sauce does freeze very well, and is then handy for rustling something up at short notice.

Sausage Lasagne

Important: The quantities given make a LARGE lasagne – probably enough to feed eight – quite deliberately. I highly recommend making it as is, because a) it’s really worth the effort and b) it freezes/reheats extremely well, so the remains can be frozen in individual portions for a speedy supper at short notice. If you’re cooking for yourself and/or have a small amount of freezer space, then you might want to make a half quantity and reduce the cooking time to between 30-40 minutes.

White Bechamel Sauce

The spices are optional, but they do give a more rounded flavour than just a plain milk/roux sauce.

600ml whole milk
1 onion
4 cloves
2-3 bay leaves
1 strip of lemon zest
1/4 of a nutmeg – left in one piece
1 blade of mace
1tbs black peppercorns
40g butter
40g plain flour
salt and pepper to taste

  • Stick the cloves into the onion, just below the middle, so that they sit under the surface of the milk when the onion floats.
  • Put the milk, onion and the rest of the flavourings into a small pan and heat slowly.
  • When the mixture is almost at a boil, remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse until cool.
  • Strain the flavourings out of the cooled milk.
  • Clean the pan and return to the stove top.
  • Melt the butter in the pan and stir in the flour to form a paste.
  • Gradually add the milk a little at a time, stirring it smooth each time.
  • When all the milk has been added, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for five minutes to ‘cook out’ the flour. If you don’t do this, your sauce will taste ‘floury’.
  • Once the sauce has simmered enough, season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Cover the sauce with cling film until required. Make sure the cling film touches the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin forming.

Tomato Sauce

This probably doesn’t qualify as a traditional tomato sauce, but it has a great, rich flavour that goes well with the cooked sausage and has a bonus of loads of flavoursome veggies hidden inside. This will make more sauce than you will need for the lasagne, so freeze the extra.

1 onion
2 carrots
3 sticks celery
2tbs olive oil
100ml tomato paste
150ml red wine
1tbs dried oregano
1tbs dried basil
2 bay leaves
2 x 400ml cartons chopped tomatoes
pepper and salt to taste

  • Put the onion, carrots and celery into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until finely chopped.
  • Heat the oil in a large pan[1] over medium heat, and add the chopped vegetables.
  • Stir over medium heat until the moisture in them has evaporated. Hint: If there’s clouds of steam rising from the pan, there’s still moisture. Stir regularly.
  • When all the moisture has evaporated, add the tomato paste and stir.
  • Continue stirring until the tomato paste has caramelised. It will turn from a dark red to more of a brick-coloured, orangey red.
  • Add the red wine and stir thoroughly.
  • Add the rest of the herbs and the chopped tomatoes and simmer over a low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally. If you have a splash guard, you might want to cover the pan to protect your stove top, but you don’t want to cover it closely – the evaporation will intensify the flavours.
  • Remove the bay leaves (or not, your choice – sometimes I forget them and they get blitzed along with the rest of the ingredients – it’s not the end of the world) and puree the sauce smooth with a stick blender or by using a blender attachment on your food processor.
  • Return the pureed sauce to the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the lasagne
2 x 400g packs good quality sausages [2]
260g fresh baby spinach leaves[3]
600ml tomato sauce
600ml white Bechamel sauce
250g lasagne sheets
150ml low fat creme fraiche
100g grated vintage cheddar

  • Remove the sausage meat from the skins and add to a large pan.
  • Stir over medium-high heat, breaking up the larger pieces of meat with a wooden soon, until it is just cooked through.
  • Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer.
  • Remove from the heat and stir through the spinach – the heat of the sauce will wilt the spinach and it will keep a lot of its glorious colour.
  • Select a large dish to construct your lasagne.
  • Spread a thin layer of the sausage sauce in the bottom of the dish.
  • Add a layer of lasagne sheets over the top. Feel free to break the sheets up in order to make them fit.
  • Add a layer of meat sauce, then a layer of white sauce.
  • Continue layering until all the components have been used up.
  • OPTIONAL: I like to use a top layer of low fat creme fraiche and a sprinkling of cheese, in order to give a little sharp tang to what is a rather rich dish. You can, of course, omit either or both and finish with the Bechamel, but to be honest, I’ve usually miscalculated and run out by the time the dish is full. 😀
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake for 1 hour, until cooked through and bubbling.

To enjoy later

When the lasagne has cooled to room temperature, cut it into portion-sized pieces – as it cools, it will firm-up nicely, so the pieces should stay intact rather well. Put each piece in a ziplock bag, box or wrap in cling film and freeze.

Once defrosted, put the piece or pieces into a dish, cover with foil and put into a cold oven. Turn the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan for 20-30 minutes until heated through. You may like to sprinkle a little extra cheese on the top to freshen it up. If, after this time, you’re not sure that it’s hot enough, a quick zap in a microwave (be sure to swap the foil for cling film) for a minute or two should do the trick.

————————————————

[1] Use a stainless steel saucepan or an enamelled cast iron pan. I’m of the opinion that the acidity in tomatoes has ruined my non-stick pans in the past, and so I’ve now banned myself from putting tomatoes into any of my non-stick pans.

[2] I use Sainsbury’s ultimate 97% pork sausages.

[3] Or greenery of your preference. Blanched kale is terribly good for you – bit more difficult to pass off as parsley, though.


Apple Mayonnaise

Apple MayonnaiseWotchers!

I’m so enchanted with this recipe – so simple, so refreshing, so vegan. Yes, that’s not a typo. Completely lacking in animal-derived ingredients. “But it looks so creamy!” I know, right!?

I rarely eat ‘neat’ mayonnaise these days – it’s just too rich (“Hold on a minute,” you say, “what about the very mayonnaise-like Dutch Fritesaus you have on chips??”. It’s deuced delicious, is what I say. *shrugs and waves hands vaguely* So I’m a contrary enigma!)

Anyhoo….

I usually mix equal parts mayonnaise and plain yoghurt to get creamy with a little tang – but this mayonnaise delivers on both counts. It’s not overtly apple-y, but you can taste the freshness. It’s fabulous!

Now for the slightly sad news: The best apples for this mayonnaise are Bramley apples – an iconic cooking apple here in the UK which, when cooked, fluffs up like cotton wool without drowning in juice. As far as I’m aware, it’s not widely available outside the UK – please contradict me if I’m wrong! It’s the fluffiness of the Bramley that gives this mayonnaise both its ‘body’ and delicious tang. Not wanting to disappoint readers from Forn Parts as Terry Pratchett puts it, I tried with other apples and my recommendations are listed below, together with some ideas for providing variety. The original recipe was incomplete, vague and in Russian so I initially just guessed quantities/types. However, I also experimented with different batches for a week or so (anyone wanna buy 4 pints of apple mayo??), and here are my findings and suggestions:

  • Apples: If Bramley apples aren’t available to you, use three (3) sharp apples such as Jazz, Braeburn, Granny Smith. Also, make sure there’s no excess moisture left in the pan when the apples are cooked. The resulting mayonnaise will be slightly less firm, but certainly not runny.
  • Acid: I’ve switched the original vinegar for lemon juice. Experiment. A nice white balsamic might suit the apples you have perfectly.
  • Mustard: I’ve used yellow mustard powder, but if you like things feisty and have the seeds, grind yourself some black. Alternatively, use ready mixed mustard – a mustard mixed with vinegar might prove the better compliment to your apple pulp.
  • Sugar/Salt: Both are needed, maybe you’ll need a little more of one that the other again, depending on your apples. I stayed with ordinary table salt and white, caster sugar, as I wanted the colour to remain light and creamy, but there’s certainly scope for using the whole range of sugars from icing through to molasses. Smoked salt is the next variation I’m planning to try. Have at it!
  • Pepper – again, thinking of the impact on the finished colour, I opted ground white, but an earlier version contained coarse-ground black made for a lovely speckled effect. There’s also all the ‘red’ peppers (paprika, cayenne, chilli etc) to introduce a little (or a lot of!) heat.
  • Oil: Originally vegetable, I also tried various mixtures as well as a couple of less obvious options. Vegetable is fine, but I felt it a little ‘claggy’ on the palate. Switching out 2tbs for olive oil wasn’t an improvement. However, in it’s defense, I must confess I didn’t use the best quality olive oil. Grape seed oil I found gave richness without clagginess. Experiment!

Apple Mayonnaise

2 Bramley Apples
1tsp white sugar
1tsp salt
1tbs lemon juice
2tbs yellow mustard powder
1tsp ground white pepper
100ml grape seed oil

  • Core, peel and chop the apples and put into a small pan with the lemon juice, sugar and salr.
  • Cover and simmer over a low heat until cooked and fluffy – this won’t take long at all, so don’t wander off and let it burn. If you’re using a sharp dessert apple, they’ll need a little longer to soften, plus you’ll probably need to leave the lid off once cooked just to let the excess liquid evaporate.
  • Use a stick blender to puree the apples smooth.
  • Add the mustard and pepper and blend in.
  • SLOWLY – and I mean one drop at a time to begin with – add the oil. Just as with traditional mayonnaise, if you add the oil too quickly, it won’t emulsify and you’ll end up with runny mayo. Once you’ve added half, you can start to add a little more at a time – maybe a teaspoon – but certainly don’t just slosh it all in.
  • Transfer the finished mayonnaise to a plastic container and chill thoroughly.
  • It will keep up to two weeks in the fridge.

Christmas Jam

Christmas Jam

Wotchers!

Got a fab recipe for Christmas this week – for gifts, to scoff yourself, whatever takes your fancy – delish!

Bit like mincemeat, but without the suet – and can be enjoyed in a whole range of different ways – on scones, over ice-cream, Christmas tart (spoon into blind-baked cases) or spooned straight from the jar *guilty look* What? What???

Anyhoo – It’s also going to provide the opportunity to illustrate creativity, because the preserve I ended up with was not the one I intended to make, but is still absolutely delicious.

This recipe began life in the kitchen of Mme Christine Ferber, the undisputed QUEEN of preserves. She lives in Niedermorschwihr, the little Alsacian village of the borderlands with Germany and is the go-to woman for the likes of Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Herme and anyone else who demands nothing but the best. Her preserves are made from local, seasonal produce and she presides over every batch. Never working with more than 4kg of fruit at a time, she marries flavours and textures beautifully, and has created over 800 flavour combinations.

So I found this recipe on a French magazine website almost a year ago and have been dying to make it all year. When I managed to snag the last 4 quince at the local farm shop, I thought I was all set, but the further I got into the recipe, the more I found out that I lacked some of the ingredients, so I just had to improvise like a BOSS. Now don’t start flapping about not having quince, because I didn’t have enough either – so I improvised with apples. Then I couldn’t find any dried pears, so I used dried pineapple instead. And so it went on.

So what I have for you here, and in the picture above, is the recipe I made, rather than the recipe I followed. It makes about 8-9 jars – plenty for gifts and a couple to keep. For anyone who is interested, the original Christine Ferber recipe is here.

Christmas Jam

2 kg of fresh quince or Bramley apples or a mixture of both
2 litres of water
1 kg granulated sugar
200 g dried pineapple
200g dried figs
100g dates
100 g dried prunes
200g dried apricots
100g raisins [1]
50 g candied lemon peel, cut into thin strips
50 g candied orange peel cut into thin strips
50 g dried cranberries
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
150g walnuts pieces
150g whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 ground star anise

  • Wipe the quince/apples with a cloth and rinse in cold water.
  • Cut into quarters and place in a preserving pan and cover with 2 liters of water.
  • Bring the pan to a boil, turn the heat down and let it simmer gently for one hour, stirring occasionally.
  • Strain the juice through a colander and then strain it again through a piece of muslin to clear it of most of the pulp.
  • Discard the fruit pulp.
  • Measure out 1300ml of the hot liquid  and pour over the dried pineapple. Leave it to soak for 3-4 hours. You can leave it longer – overnight if you like, but I was in the mood to make this jam NOW! Today! 😉
  • Wash your jars and lids and put into the oven on a baking tray at 100°C, 80°C Fan. Always err on the side of caution and have more jars than you think you’ll need.
  • Cut the figs, prunes and apricots into strips 3mm wide. NB DO NOT get the ‘ready to eat’ dried fruit – it’ll just break down into a mush. Make sure you get the old-fashioned ‘tough’ dried fruit.
  • Slit the dates and remove pits. Slice into 3mm strips
  • Pour the apple liquid and the pineapple into a preserving pan with the sugar, figs, dates, prunes, apricots, raisins, lemon and orange peel, cranberries, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, and the spices.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
  • Skim any scum from the surface.
  • Keep cooking on high heat for five to ten minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Skim again if necessary.
  • When the temperature reaches 100°C, add the walnuts and almonds.
  • Bring the mixture to 104°C and test that the setting point has been reached by spooning a little of the syrup onto a cold plate and placing in the freezer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat while you check. If the surface if the jelly wrinkles when you push your finger through it, then setting point has been reached. NB This is really just to double-check – if it reaches 104°C, you’re fine. This is not a solid-set jam, it’s more ‘fruit suspended in spiced apple jelly’.
  • Ladle into the warm jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Wipe jars and label when cooled.

[1] I used Sainsbury’s snack raisins, which is a mixture of golden, flame, crimson and green raisins. Beautiful!


Barbecue Sauce

Pot of Barbecue Sauce

Wotchers!

… and Phew, what a scorcher!

Having given house room for the past 2 years to the five bags of charcoal we optimistically bought in preparation for the barbecue summer of 2009 – you know, the one with the torrential rain – I am allowing myself to use the above  time-honoured tabloid headline phrase whenever the thermometer threatens to creep above 20°C. So seeing as it’s shaping up to be a fine weekend, I’m thinking it’s going to be a great time to fire up the barbecue and use some of our charcoal stockpile.

In the UK, the term barbecue tends to refer to the object you use to cook outside, and therefore anything cooked on this item is deemed barbecue food. In the US, this style of cooking is referred to as grilling, and barbecue actually refers to something closer in style to slow-roasting. Whichever approach you favour, a good sauce is a necessity to slather over the hot food of choice – and so here is my own recipe for just such occasions.

I really love this sauce – not just because of the tangy, smoky flavour (which is AWESOME by the way) – but also its beautiful colour – rich, dark and delicious – and the fact that it’s so simple to make. The use of the sweet, smoked paprika lends a wonderful smoky taste without having to resort to artificial flavourings, and also means its child-friendly in its mildness. Nevertheless, if you like heat in your sauces, use the hot smoked paprika with impunity!

Barbecue Sauce
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced/chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika (NOT the hot one!)
1 pinch salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
500 ml tomato ketchup
200g dark brown sugar (muscovado for preference)
4 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

  •  Heat the oil over medium heat; add onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, then add in garlic and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add paprika, salt and pepper and stir for 1 minute.
  • Add all remaining ingredients and stir gently to combine. Simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens. You may need to use a splatter guard as the sauce thickens and bubbles.
  • Whizz in a blender if you prefer a smooth consistency.

This makes about 700ml of thick sauce. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add water to desired consistency.
I keep this in my fridge, in the washed and rinsed ketchup bottle used to make it.
To keep costs down, buy basic, no-frills ketchup – I found a 560ml bottle for 22p!

Cost : £1.50 for 700ml (July 2011)