Kitchen 9: Maid’s Autumn Booze and Hedgerow Trifle.

You need Autumn Booze to make Hedgerow Trifle, so a year before you want to eat the trifle……

Lay down damsons in brandy just as you would in Summer Booze. Don’t use good brandy, any moderately priced one will do very well, but avoid stuff that takes the vanish off wooden surfaces. Make a small nick in each of the damsons to allow the juice to run free.

When you eventually rack it off you will have a deep purple liquid that smells heavenly. You can use this in lots of ways apart from drinking it of course, try adding a spoonful to a plum sauce, sweet or savoury.

Or, you can make Hedgerow Trifle.

You will need

A hazelnut sponge cake

Half a pint of poached blackberries

Damson brandy

Custard

Whipped cream

Toasted hazelnuts

First the sponge cake. If you can, buy it (no sense in making work for yourself), but if like me you have trouble finding a brand that actually tastes of hazelnut make your own.

The weight of two large eggs in butter and sugar creamed together until pale and fluffy.

Beat the eggs and add them slowly.

The weight of the eggs in s/r flour, but take out one heaped tablespoon of the flour and replace it with one heaped tablespoon of toasted ground hazel nuts. You can add more hazelnut if you like, but if you do add some baking powder to help the rise.

Pour into a greased cake tin and baked in a moderate oven until done.

 Next the blackberries.

I cheat. Put them in a microproof bowl with sugar to taste, cover and blast for 3 mins Take them out, stir and blast again for another three minutes. They need no more water than what clings to them after you gave them a quick wash.

You have poached blackberries, no saucepan to wash up and no indeliable purple splashes down the white top you forgot to take off before you started cooking. I have aprons, excellent chef style aprons and one day I will remember to wear them every time I cook.

(If you are feeding children, cook the fruit over the heat adding the damson brandy to them, this will burn off the alcohol.)

Find a nice big bowl and break up the sponge cake in the bottom, spoon the blackberries and a few spoonfuls of the damson brandy over the top and leave to soak for a couple of hours.

Cover with a layer of custard and top that with another of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Decorate with whole toasted hazelnuts or scattered chopped ones over.

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Kitchen 8: Maid’s Summer Booze!

I bet that got your attention!

I love summer soft fruits, strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, all the currants, they are all delicious.

So why not preserve them for winter.

We do I hear you cry, we can and bottle and jam and jelly. Well so do I when I can raise the strength, but one of my favourites is to make fruit liqueurs.

It is so easy.

Take a big preserving jar or bottle, the sort you can seal the lid down. Fill it two thirds full with your favourite soft fruit. Don’t pack it down, just tumble into the jar.

Now pour in enough sugar to come half way up the jar and then cover right to the top with the booze of your choice. 

I think vodka or brandy is best, but raspberries seem to respond very well too gin.

Seal, give a shake and leave for a few months.

Everytime you come across the jar give it an mild shake. The contents of the jar will look revolting, but have courage all will be well.

Afrer at least three months strain the whole lot through double muslin ( don’t squeeze, just allow to drip) and you will have the most beautifully coloured and flavoured sweet liquid with a kick like a mule! Bottle that and discard the stuff left in the cloth.

Done this way one bottle of booze can be turned into two bottles of liqueuer.

Now comes the best bit.

You can of course just drink them and very nice they are too, but you can do lovely things with them as well.

I soak cubes of sponge cake in strawberry vodka and then smoother them with whipped cream and toasted almonds for a grown up dessert.

This stuff isn’t for the children, strictly a grown up treat!

Add them to a fruit jelly (jello) to lift it skywards.

In hot milk for a night cap.

The possiblities are endless and these things keep well.

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Kitchen 7: Maid’s Warm Trout with Hot Potato Salad

Having said all that about fish generally, I do still buy farmed fish. Unfortunately I don’t think it has the flavour of the wild version, but with a little care it can be made into something good.

I shouldn’t take any credit for this, because I read it somewhere. The trouble is, I can’t never remember where, so I cook I think the recipe said. It tastes great though!

You will need

I fresh farmed trout per person ( gutted and scaled)

Sliced onions

Pepper corns

Brown sugar

White wine vinegar

A bay leaf.

Salt

First the trout.

Fillet or not to fillet? You can always get your fishmonger to do this, but make sure you take out the pin bones as well. I tend to leave mine unfilleted, I’ve gone to the trouble of cooking it, they can go to the trouble of eating it.

Head on or head off? Mine aren’t worried, but if yours are, or the fish won’t fit in the pan, behead them by all means.

Do remove the fins though. And trim up the tail a bit.

Now prepare the cooking liquid. Fill a pan big enough to take the fish with water. Add the sliced onion, half a dozen pepper corns, the bay leaf, a dessert spoon of brown sugar, a generous pinch of salt and three tablespoons of white wine vinegar.

Bring to the boil and then add the fish.

Spoon off any scum that rises to the top and turn down to a simmer.

Poach the fish gently for about seven to eight minutes and then leave them to cool in the liquid.

When they are still just warm, lift them out and drain well, patting dry with kitchen paper. Discard all the cooking liquid, onions and spices.

Serve with hot potato salad.

You will need

Waxy salad potatos

A few little pickled gerkins

A handful of finely chopped fresh dill

Olive oil

Salt.

Boil the potatos until tender, drain and while they are still hot crush them or chop them up quickly. Throw in the dill and the pickles. Season with the salt and dress with the oil. Serve immediately.  

Fish

You knew it had to come!

I love to cook and I love to feed people, but we need to respect the things that provide us with food and the way its produced.

The first thing that needs respect is the land itself. Without being stupid about it, I try to buy organic. To be honest, apart from eggs, meat and milk, I don’t think you can tell a great deal of difference from the taste, even with veggies (sorry), but it is the care of the land and its long term ability to produce crops that should be the reason to buy organic.

If you eat meat and eggs then you should have a modicum of gratitude to the beast that provided it. At least allow them a reasonable life before you end it and use them. Respect, nothing more.

But fish is different.

All fish, except the farmed stuff is free range and organic and we are stripping the seas and waters bare! Traditional catches are down because stocks have been reduced to the point where they can’t reproduce themselves and the industry is turning to deep sea species.

Fish whose life cycle we don’t understand, but who probably have slow breeding rates. How long before they are reduced to near extinction levels?

I no longer buy marine fish. I’m not sure what the long term effects of farmed fish are, but it is a better option than lifeless oceans.

If we all gave the seas a chance to rest and the fish a chance to rebuild their numbers, there is no reason why a sensible harvest couldn’t be taken and continue to be taken, but not at the present rate of going.

If the fish go, so will all those other residents of the planet who eat fish. Whales, dolphins, seals and all those wonderous seabirds.

Next time you see a mountain of canned tuna, give a little though to just how many fish it took to fill those cans. And all the other can mountains in all the other supermarkets. And in all the supermarkets in all the other countries of the world.

Kitchen 6: Chicken Liver Salad

Now half of you have gone “liver…yuck!” which is a pity because it can be delicious. I think most of us have hideous memories of childhood abominations served up in the name of “good for you”.

This might convert some liver haters.

First prepare your salad. A good mix of crisp and soft leaves. I like little gem, lamb’s lettuce and some sprouted seeds like mustard and cress, but use whatever you like best. Baby spinach is another good one, but avoid the more bitter red coloured leaves, I don’t think they compliment the soft velvet texture and taste of the livers.

Dress it with a good French dressing made from your best olive oil and put piles of it on individual plates.

For the livers you will need

About 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon (the sort that goes crisp when fried)

Chicken livers. The amount will depend on greed, but they are filling, so temper greed with common sense.

Sherry vinegar (optional)

Oil for frying. Not your best oil, a bland one like sunflower, whatever you use every day.

Wash the livers in cold water, be gentle with them. Dry on kitchen paper.

Trim them well, discarding all and any yucky bits ( I recycle all those into a cat who is always very grateful and spends the next 3 hours sleeping it off like a lion after a eating an zebra) . Cut what remains into nice bite sized pieces.

Slice the bacon into cubes and fry in a tiny drop of oil until they go crisp. Lift them out of the pan, leaving as much fat behind as possible and drain on some more paper.

Toss on the livers. If there doesn’t look as if there is enough fat to cook them add the smallest knob of butter.

Fry them quickly until they are done, but still slightly pink in the centre, this doesn’t take long. Whatever you do, don’t over cook them, they will go tough and bring back all those memories of “good for you.”

Quickly deglaze the pan with a tablespoon of sherry vinegar. This isn’t vital, but it lifts the flavours wonderfully.

Serve straight onto your pile of dressed leaves and scatter the bacon pieces over the top.

I don’t think this needs anything else but some crisp fresh bread and butter to eat with it. Speaking for myself I think you want the pale creamy slightly salted continental butter with this, not the yellow, saltier stuff, but that is just me being picky.

For those cutting back on dairy, the bread could be dipped on some more of your best olive oil.