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.

 


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!


Trimmings Tart

Trimmings Tart

Wotchers!

Right off the bat I’m going to admit that this is not an original recipe, but it IS one of my absolute favourite Christmas dishes. In fact, I like it so much, I make it even when it isn’t Christmas – it makes a fab meal all by itself, especially when served alongside some crunchy stuffing! My (English as opposed to Dutch) sister-in-law made it years ago and I managed to pry the recipe out of her clutches long enough to make a copy – The Precious! It’s from an old Prima magazine, and I’m sharing it today as a suggestion to making your Christmas that little bit easier and a whole lot tastier.

To my mind, one of the best things about the traditional Christmas turkey meal isn’t the bird itself, it’s all the trimmings that go with it: bacon rolls, chipolata sausages, stuffing, chestnuts, cranberries, etc. However, on probably the most stressful day of the year foodwise, you don’t really want to be juggling all these itty-bitty bits on top of everything else, so here’s a fabulous and delicious solution: Trimmings Tart. All the traditional Christmas trimmings gathered together in a kind of savoury Tarte Tatin, with a balsamic caramel glaze and topped with crumbly, buttery, walnut pastry.

Make it ahead of time and all it requires on the day is 20-25 minutes to cook the pastry and heat the filling – you could do that while the turkey was resting. Turn onto a plate to serve and cover any crumbly edges with rosemary sprigs – it’s what I did! When I turned the tart out this morning, I forgot to loosen the pastry from the edge of the pan (not that the original recipe tells you to do that!), and so it didn’t all come out smoothly. I’ve got to be honest, I actually toyed with the idea of dashing to the supermarket at 10am and buying more ingredients to make another one. But then I thought: No, hang on  – what it this was Christmas Day? No shops open to fall back on, so some improvisation would be in order. And let’s be honest here, it’s going to be on the table for all of five minutes before people are ripping into it like a monkey on a cupcake, so no need to agonise over presentation too much. The original serving suggestion does actually include sprigs of rosemary, admittedly not quite as many as I used, but I think they make it look very Christmas-wreathy.

The glaze is dark due to the balsamic vinegar, but I quite like that as it makes the red of the cranberries really pop. Feel free to use white balsamic if you can get it, or a mild wine vinegar to lighten things up. Use any mushrooms you like, but chestnut mushrooms won’t have lots of black juice oozing out, and will keep their texture. Fresh chestnuts are wonderful and give great texture to the forcemeat, but a little time-consuming to peel and cook. If you know you won’t be using them in anything else, you could buy them ready-prepared. Try and get good quality, lean bacon for the bacon rolls – otherwise there’s more faffing about trimming off the excess fat. Extra cranberries can be made into sauce with just a little sugar and water. Don’t roll your pastry too thin – there’s a hefty number of ingredients to support once the tart is turned out. This quantity makes just about a perfect amount of pastry for a 24cm tart.

Trimmings Tart

Walnut Pastry
225g plain flour
112g butter
60g walnuts
1 large egg yolk
water

Forcemeat
30g butter
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
85g lean smoked bacon
85g chestnut mushrooms
85g smooth liver pate
60g fresh breadcrumbs
1tbs fresh thyme
1tbs snipped fresh chives
85g cooked, peeled chestnuts

To finish
16 round shallots
30g butter
1tbs vegetable oil
3tbs light muscovado sugar
2tbs balsamic vinegar
4tbs water
16 rashers of rindless smoked bacon
16 chipolata sausages
A handful of fresh cranberries
rosemary to garnish

  • Put the flour, butter, walnuts and egg yolk into a food processor and blitz. Depending on the moisture in the flour and butter, the yolk might be enough to bind it together. If not, use 1-2 tbs cold water until it comes together in a ball.
  • Knead the dough smooth, then cover in plastic and chill in the fridge.
  • Peel the onion and garlic and chop them finely in a food processor.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onions and garlic until softened.
  • Chop the bacon in the food processor, then add to the pan and cook for a few minutes.
  • Chop the mushrooms in the food processor, then add to the pan and cook for a few minutes to release the moisture.
  • When the mixture seems dry, tip it into a mixing bowl
  • Add the breadcrumbs, pate, chopped chestnuts and herbs and mix thoroughly.
  • Make the mixture up into balls using a tablespoon or a small ice-cream scoop to measure.
  • Pour boiling water over the shallots and leave for 2 minutes. This makes them easier to peel.
  • Peel the shallots and cook in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain. Dry.
  • Roll the bacon up and secure with cocktail sticks.
  • Grill the sausages and bacon rolls.
  • Heat the butter and oil in a pan and gently fry the shallots until golden. NB This should be the pan you will use to bake the tart, so make sure it has an oven-proof handle or one that can be removed. Alternatively, when the shallots are cooked, tip them and the glaze into a cake/tart tin.
  • Add the sugar, balsamic and water to make the glaze and cook for a further 5 minutes until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Remove from the heat.
  • Arrange the forcemeat balls, bacon rolls and sausages in the pan with the shallots.
  • Add the cranberries to fill any gaps.  Allow the filling to cool.

NB If you’re making the tart ahead of time, then stop here. Cover the filling with clingfilm and keep in the fridge until required.

To bake and serve:

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Roll out the chilled pastry until just large enough to cover the filling.
  • Lay the pastry over the filling and tuck round the sides.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.
  • Set the cooked tart aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
  • Run a knife round the edge of the pastry to make sure it isn’t stuck to the pan.
  • Place a plate over the pastry and carefully flip the pan over to turn out the tart.
  • Gently lift the pan off, checking that none of the filling has stuck. If it has, use a slice to ease it from the pan and place it neatly back into its place on the tart.
  • Cover up any pastry/filling disasters Garnish the tart with sprigs of rosemary.

Luxury Mince Pies

Mince Pies

Wotchers!

Just to complete the hat-trick, now that you’ve made your Candied Peel and used it to rustle up some Guilt-Free Mincemeat, it’s time to bake some Mince Pies! Of course, you can use a jar of your favourite brand too – it’s all good – just don’t BUY mince pies! They’re never as good as home made.

Now to my mind, mince pies come in two sizes. There’s the small, Christmas party/buffet size – gone in a couple of bites, no need for a plate, more of an appetiser/nibble. One of the down-sides of this size of mince pie, however, is the danger of not rolling the pastry thin enough, resulting in thick, claggy pastry forming the greater part of the pie. Due in part to the difficulty in making such small pies and also to eliminate the danger of the filling bursting out, there’s a tendency to err too much on the side of caution, and consequently they frequently contain just a miniscule amount of mincemeat inside.

Then there’s the mince pie made in a bun tin, which is much more my kind of pie – larger, more substantial, easier to shape, fill and decorate. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really have a sweet tooth – but Christmas isn’t Christmas without a mince pie, so I like to eat just one, but make it an extra special one.

Many moons ago, I found a recipe by Jocelyn Dimbleby for Deluxe Mince Pies – it was in a little paperback book entitled Cooking For Christmas that I borrowed from a friend. This decadent confection had a short, orange-flavoured pastry and topped the mincemeat with a tiny amount of sweetened cream cheese – so that when the pie was cooked ( or indeed warmed just prior to serving), the cheese-cake-like mixture melted and mingled with the rich mincemeat to make a very indulgent mouthful. I thought they were amazing.

I’ve since managed to track down a copy for myself *vaguely scans the bookshelves* – OK, so I’m not 100% sure where exactly my copy IS at the moment, but I do have a copy somewhere! It must be popular, because it’s also ‘out there’ on various web pages if you search.

ANYHOO – I was eager to see how the Guilt-Free Mincemeat performed in my favourite mince pie recipe, so I rustled up some test pies with great anticipation. Alas, I was disappointed. The pastry was frustratingly difficult to work with, and when cooked, was overly sweet, too greasy  and very fragile – too fragile to hold the shape of the pies.

Maybe it’s my own tastes that have changed, but I was still convinced that the mince pies could be amazing if only the pastry could be improved. So I headed to the kitchen to experiment and finally came up with the recipe below. You might think it a bit of a faff to bother tweaking pastry, but I really wanted the WHOLE mince pie to be delicious to eat, and not just the filling. The bonus is that, now I have a great sweet shortcrust variation, I shall be using this pastry again in other sweet bakes. For those interested in the reasoning behind the ingredient choices I made:

Butter: For flavour – 50% of the fat content. All-butter pastry tastes great, but it is extremely rich and very delicate once cooked.
Lard: 50% of the fat content. All-lard pastry is very hard and crusty and sometimes has something of an aftertaste, but tempered with the butter, makes for a deliciously crisp crust that holds its shape well.
Another reason for using the pure fats listed above, is ease of removal from the tins. I’ve used pastry made with hydrogenated oils and blended fats and been plagued with having bakes stick to the tins. They never have when I’ve used ‘pure’ fats. Just sayin’……
Sugar: For sweetness – although it’s a good deal less than in traditional sweet shortcrust.
Almonds: For crunch and crispness. They lighten the pastry and help keep it crisp.
Orange zest and juice: Makes for a lovely orange flavour to the pastry that really compliments the citrus in the mincemeat. I’ve opted to use orange juice as the sole liquid to bring the pastry together.

I also reduced the amount of sugar and added lemon juice to the cream cheese mixture to bring out the flavour of the mincemeat. It’s amazing how a little bit of lemon can lift the flavour of a whole dish. Feel free to omit the cream cheese topping – the mince pies will still be awesome! 😀

Luxury Mince Pies

Makes 12 deep and decadent mince pies (plus 3-4 small ‘cooks perks’ pies) 😉

Orange and Almond Shortcrust pastry
200g plain flour
50g unsalted butter
50g lard
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds [1]
juice and zest of 1-2 oranges [2]

500g of mincemeat (or 1 batch of Guilt-Free Mincemeat)

Cream Cheese Luxury Topping (optional)
200g cream cheese
zest and juice of 1 lemon
icing sugar

milk & caster sugar to glaze

  • Put the flour into a food processor fitted with a blade.
  • Cut the fats into 1cm cubes and add to the food processor.
  • Blitz until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Add the sugar and ground almonds and pulse a couple of times to mix.
  • Add the zest of both oranges and the juice of one and run the mixer to combine. I the mixture doesn’t come together into a ball by itself, squeeze the juice from the second orange and add gradually, pausing between each addition, until the mix comes together.
  • Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Make the cream cheese topping (if using)
    • Beat the cream cheese in a bowl or using a mixer until smooth.
    • Add the zest of the lemon.
    • Add half the lemon juice and mix until combined. You don’t want the mix to get either too sharp or too runny.
    • Sweeten to taste with icing sugar. Don’t add too much – 2-3 heaped tablespoons is plenty. Just enough to take the edge off the lemon flavour without making it too sweet.
  • When the pastry is suitably chilled, remove from the fridge, cut it in two and return half to the fridge. Why? It’s much easier to work with a smaller piece of pastry than a larger. You want to be able to roll this pastry nice and thin, but if you’re flinging around a huge sheet of the stuff, there’s going to be tears (and you can read that two ways!).
  • Roll the pastry thinly (3mm-ish) and cut out the bases of your pies. Make the circles of pastry large enough to fill the whole base of the tin and overlap the rim by about 1cm. Make sure your tin is well greased and lay in the pastry circles. NB Be careful not to accidentally push holes in the pastry when you’re easing it into the tins. Re-roll the trimmings if required.
  • Put 1tbs of mincemeat filling into each pie and pressdown.
  • Spoon 1tsp cream cheese topping onto the mincemeat.
  • Put the tray of pies into the fridge while you roll out the rest of the pastry and cut the lids. Make sure the lids are large enough to overlap the holes by about 1cm.
  • Wet the edges of the lids and press them onto the pies. Make sure the edges are well sealed by pressing firmly. You can make pretty crimping patterns by using the tines of a fork, but I like to make a nice, neat plain edge by using a plain, round cutter once the lids are on and in the tin (which is why the bases and lids need to be cut on the large side). As well as making the pies nice and neat, it seals the lids onto the pastry bases and helps prevent the filling from oozing out.
  • Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. The milk will brown the pastry and the sugar will melt and form a lovely crunchy top layer.
  • Cut a small slit in the top to let out steam.
  • Bake in a hot oven – 200°C, 180°C Fan – for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
  • Gently tip out of the tin and set to cool on a wire rack.
  • Best served warm.

Cost: Pastry only £1.50 (using ground almonds & 2 oranges, December 2011)

[1] If you want to make this pastry nut-free, then just omit the ground almonds. It’ll not have the same crunch, but still be an improvement on plain shortcrust.

[2] This vagueness is due to the juiciness of the oranges and the water content of the flour – two oranges should definitely be juicy enough though.