The X(mas) Files: Grow Your Own Christmas Spirit!

xmas pudI assure you that I am not your irritating facebook friend constantly posting about how many weeks/Saturdays/nanoseconds are left to pass until we can crack open our advent calendars. However, there are certain activities of yuletide prep which really need to begin in this the final quarter of the year and if you’ve got a decent pear crop, my Christmas Spirit is one of them.

Like pretty much everything this summer, the pears in my garden have matured early and thanks to several weeks of classic British summer washout they are of good size but still, as last year, harder than a concrete cage fighter. I did three things with them last year. Firstly, after a minor brush with fame getting read out on Saturday Kitchen tweets, I took on some telly chef advice and pickled the best part of three kilos of my rockhard green babies and put them up for Christmas. I mostly followed this recipe from Saint Delia of Smith but put in about three times too much pepper by happy accident. They were pokey and sweet and went wonderfully on the boxing day cheese board, so it’s worth a look if you have your own crop to process.

The rest of them got made into an unsuccessful puree and the bulk of my Step Father’s Christmas bottle. He’s an awkward sod to buy for, because he generally doesn’t know what he wants and the Mothership gets fed up of asking him so on gifting occasions I tend to steer unguided towards obscure sci fi books and lesser contemplated consumables around themes of coffee, booze or marmite. I often remember him enjoying a sneaky tip of Benedictine back in the halycon days of us all living in the same house, and got into my head that I was going to make him some kind of sweet, spiced vodka for his stocking last year. What I made was absolutely NOTHING like Benedictine, mostly as I am not a monk with a secret recipe, but I did come up with a pretty winning and distinctly Christmassy home brew that will warm many a cockle of a cold winter’s eve. So if you’ve got a spare pear, so to speak, you might want to give this a go but get it started in the next 2 weeks for maximum infusion time.

Boomboom Christmas Spirit

1 bottle mid-range vodka
2 large conference pears
1 teaspoon of orange or lemon zest
1 vanilla pod
2 cinammon sticks (one now, one later)
6 cloves
4-6 tbspns Golden granulated sugar depending how sweet you take your tipples.
5 Cardamom pods
A 1l mason jar
Decorative bottle to decant

pears

Pear infused Christmas Spirit in process

Start by thoroughly cleaning and drying the mason jar- the combination of vodka and sugar will keep most microbial growth at bay but it still pays to give the glassware a really good clean and a very hot water rinse before you get started. Same goes for the decanting bottle in December.
Start to fill the jar with the spices and sugar (you can add more later if you don’t love the first taste test so less is more at this point).  Split the vanilla pod, crack the cinnamon stick in half and gently press the cardamom pods to crack the outer skins and allow as much surface area as possible for all those aromatics to seep into the vodka. The cloves can go in whole.
Wash the pears gently but thoroughly in cold water and cut off the very ends. With a sharp knife, score through the skin from top to bottom three times around the pear, then add to the jar. Chuck in the zest then fill the jar up with vodka. As always, don’t fall into the trap of budget cooking vodka use something you could stand to drink! Russian Standard or Smirnoff at a minimum please. Seal the jar, give it a very gentle jiggle then put it somewhere cool and dark to contemplate its destiny for a couple of months.

Continue to jiggle the bottle daily for a week, then once a week until early December, when you should take a little taste test and add more sugar if required. It will start to darken over time and should be a golden yellow after about 8 weeks. Don’t be put off by the pears starting to look a bit manky by this point and do not be tempted to open the jar or taste it before this- you really want to minimise oxygen exposure. If you want to sweeten add a table spoon more of sugar, shake, then leave for another 24 hours to taste. If this is not required, strain the liquid through muslin or a very fine metal mesh sieve and decant into a clean bottle with another, intact cinnamon stick for some pretty factor. Put a ribbon around it and give it away to be served over ice or in a martini. Merry Christmas!

Variations- you could try this with gin  using a very plain dry London gin like Gordon’s however I would leave out the cloves and vanilla. 

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The Skinny Thing: Pizza Tortillas

pizza header.jpg

‘healthy’ pizzas under construction, but should they be called pizzas?

Some time ago I was the subject of some unduly harsh criticism of my general ranking as a Significant Other  after Instagramming evidence that I was about to serve the Mr a weight watchers esque fake pizza for dinner. A weight watchers esque fake pizza with mange tout on it.

I will defend myself as follows:

  1. The Mr is free to cook his own dinner, any time he bloody likes.
  2. I really like mange tout, and if millions of freaks across the world are allowed to put the salted bony evil that is anchovies on their pizzas without rebuke, then I’m putting mange tout on mine.

There is one thing, however, that I cannot let myself off the hook for and that is calling these creations ‘pizzas’. I often moan about the negative effect on the perception of unusual food creations by trying to palm them off as just like something better/fattier/gluten free or whatever when they are nothing like that at all. But let us not get bound up again in my vegan fish and chips rant and instead admit the mistake and say: It Was Not A Pizza.

So I am not going to call it a pizza. What is was, was a wholemeal tortilla, spread with salsa and topped with some fresh vegetable items then finished off with black olives and half fat cheese. You chuck the whole thing in the oven and end up 20 minutes later with a satisfying dinner edging up your five a day target for well under 400 calories or about 10 smartpoints (or 6 if you use weight watchers branded tortillas). I promise you this is a lot less than you would score for a proper pizza for one or a fully loaded cheesy burrito type thing.  And not a ground up cauliflower in sight.

You will find the recipe easily enough on the Weight Watchers site but I despise their own brand bready items so I use standard wraps and have found it easier to bake these in the oven vs grilling, so whilst I pay total homage to Weight Watchers for the inspiration, here’s how I do it.

pizza 1

the finished tortilla pizza open wrap cheesey type thing

Per person:
2 tbspns jarred salsa
1 wholemeal tortilla wrap
Veg such as mushrooms, red onions, peppers, courgette ribbons and MANGE TOUT!!!!!
30g half fat cheddar cheese, grated
5 pitted black olives, halved
Dried mixed herbs

Construct this on a non-stick baking tray. Spread the wrap with salsa which MUST be a fairly thick, jarred sort rather than the fresh dippy type as this has far too high water content and will result in a sloppy mess of a fake pizza dinner. I particularly enjoy the co-op’s own brand fiery salsa for this. If you don’t have jarred salsa use tomato puree instead (but less).
Very thinly slice your veg and scatter it merrily ‘cross your tomatoey tortilla. Don’t layer it too much else you risk the previously mentioned sloppy mess. Top off now with the grated cheese then olives and a sprinkling of herbs. If you want to go hot try chilli flakes or jalepenos too.

Chuck it into a hot oven at 170 for 12 minutes, then whack the heat up to 200 for a further 3-4 minutes or until the tortilla edges begin to crisp up and the cheese is fully melted and bubbly.

Slice and serve with whatever you want, but remember that the low points on this won’t counter out an entire tub of lux coleslaw and garlic bread. It really wont.

Squash Blossom Risotto

pumpkin blossoms

Early pumpkin blossoms are light and delicately tasty

Despite recent radish issues and an out and out potato fail, my garden is currently offering up some really wonderful pumpkin and courgette flowers which have been going into our new favourite summer evening dinner. I do love a risotto, and weirdly I forget how much I love a risotto quite frequently and hadn’t made one in months until I was faced with coming up with something that was nice enough to warrant Birthday Dinner status without doing any further hurt to a serious toothache issue I wont bore you with now (it really hurts BTW).

Squash blossoms abound at this time of year and tend to provide a good amount of vitamins C and A.  This is a quick, vegetarian friendly recipe once you sort your prep out and perfect for an indulgent summery dinner at home. You can simply garnish with a whole flower or go all out with the fried stuffed version depending on how much time you have. It will work equally well with courgette flowers, though they are slightly smaller and differ in taste from the pumpkin flowers. Harvest your flowers with as much of the stalk as you can, ideally first thing in the morning or after some good rainfall. The un-opened ones will be easier to stuff if you are going for the fried-garnish option.

Boomboom Blossom Risotto.

stuffed blossome

soft cheese stuffed pumpkin blossoms ready to fry

Serves Two.

160g risotto rice
4 fresh pumpkin blossoms or 6 courgette flowers (or a mix of both)
1 tbspn rapeseed oil
1 white onion
15 button or 8 chestnut mushrooms
1 courgette
3 cloves garlic
2 tbspns soft cheese
1 glass dry white wine
500ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

For fried flower garnish:
More rapeseed oil
3  tbspns soft cheese
1 egg
2 tbspns sifted plain flour

You do need a little bit of prep on this one if you are going with the fried flower garnish so get organised early by making up your stock, finely dicing your onions, garlic, mushrooms and courgettes and gently but thoroughly washing the flowers in cold water.

Take out the two largest (or most aesthetically pleasing) blooms and set aside for using as the garnish. De-stalk and finely shred the rest of them.  Beat the egg and sift the flour then be ready with a tea strainer or fine sieve.  Season the soft cheese with salt and pepper and beat it well then very carefully spoon this into the flowers. I find this most easy to do with the handle of a teaspoon, don’t over fill them! Put these aside for now.

This is the point in proceedings to take any kind of break that you need be it to go for a pee, make yourself a drink or talk to your dinner guest because once you start a risotto YOU MUST NOT LEAVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!

Put plenty of rapeseed oil into a heavy bottomed frying pan and put this aside. In another large pan (that you have a lid for) heat 1 tbspns of oil and fry off the onions and garlic, adding the courgettes and mushrooms once the onion is translucent. Cook through for 3 minutes then add the risotto rice to your pan and stir well to combine. Add the wine now and stir gently but continuously until the wine is absorbed by the rice. As always, don’t use horrible cheap ‘cooking’ wine, go with something you can stand to drink. Co-op do a lovely English Bacchus at the moment which does nicely with this dish.
Add the vegetable stock a cup at a time, stirring all the time until the liquid is absorbed and continue to add until the rice is al dente  or soft with a tiny bit of bite left. Basically just cooked but not soggy. You might not need all of the stock for this.
Take this pan off the heat now and stir in the soft cheese plus some sea salt and black pepper, put the lid on and leave to one side.
Turn the heat on now on to your other pan and dip your garnish flowers into the egg. Use a fine sieve or a tea strainer to thoroughly dust the flour onto flowers (ha!) rather than dipping them as this tends to have an unfortunately claggy result. You only want a fine layer of flour over everything. When the oil is hot, fry the flowers quickly for only a minute or so on each side or until you see only the slightest colour  developing. Drain them on some kitchen paper.
Quickly now stir the shredded flowers into your risotto then plate immediately with the stuffed blossom on top and some parmesan cheese. I find this best served with a plain green salad and a big glass of dry white wine in a sunny garden!

Variations- If you don’t want to stuff the flowers and go through all that you can just lightly fry or even bake the flowers on their own. If you have a deep fat fryer try a tempura style batter on the whole flowers or even on the shredded rings for a crunchier topping.
You can leave the wine out if you wish just use more stock.
If you swap the veg stock for chicken stock this will work but I would dilute it slightly as chicken stock tends to taste a little stronger.
Vegans/weight watchers or the dairy intolerant can forgo the soft cheese however I would suggest finishing it instead with a nice glug of extra virgin olive oil to keep it rich and luxuriant as all risottos should be!

The Skinny Thing: Oven Fried Chicken

fried chicn

Not-really-fried chicken, a great treat night dinner without the calorie concerns.

It’s been a bit of a week on the diet front, where various employment obligations and personal weaknesses have meant living off of a staple feed of severely low effort food that was either cooked by someone else or merely assembled then covered with cheese in my kitchen. I’ve been busy and knackered and in no mood to cook. The trouble is that endless late nights and refined carbohydrates do nothing to improve one’s energy levels or motivation to rustle up a salad.

Having punctuated various takeaways and pizza based entities with too many pints of real ale and a tub of brownie bites since Monday, this blogger kicked off the weekend with something of a delayed and cumulative food hangover. It is a weird thing to crave cucumber and peaches on a Saturday morning, and a disheartening thing to be bloated to the point of your fail safe summer shorts almost refusing to do up.

It is still the weekend, however, and a Saturday dinner was required and here was a perfect opportunity to fall back on what is basically fake Southern Fried Chicken as a treat for tea that wasn’t going to require any further damage control on the waistline. By removing that whole pesky deep frying issue and swapping out the buttermilk soak one can seriously bring the fat content down without losing too much satisfaction. It also lends itself very nicely to being dished up with a big pile of veg to replenish one’s mass lack of fibre after a week of gastro pubs and Just Eat clicks. It doesn’t taste even remotely Diety either so will work well if you have guests who aren’t on the same low calorie wagon as you. In fact, this is a good recipe for those who don’t have a deep fat fryer, or hate cleaning it.

Weight Watchers can see a chicken breast done in this method coming in at a maximum 4  smartpoints, vs 7 or 8 for a traditionally done Southern Fried portion. It is relatively speedy and fuss free to cook and lends itself very well to slimming friendly sides, by which I mostly mean vegetables. Dear God, I need the vegetables!!!!

Boomboom Fake Fried Chicken

frying

brief frying time in a small amount of oil makes this much lower fat that traditional recipes

4 chicken breasts
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons hot sauce
75 ml unsweetened almond milk
3 heaped tablespoons plain flour
Garlic powder, celery salt, ground coriander, paprika, chilli powder, black pepper, salt
Oil/cooking spray for frying

Start by beating the egg with the almond milk, hot sauce and a pinch of salt then pour this over the chicken breasts and leave to marinate for 2-4 hours, covered in the fridge.

When ready to cook, put the oven on at 190 degrees C and line a sturdy baking tray with some greaseproof paper. Mix the flour and spices well and put into a large, flat dish. You will want to play with the spice mix to your own taste but I find a flat mix of 1/2 a tsp of all the listed spices works well enough to please most diners without being too hot. I must admit that if it just me and the Mr I go considerably heavier on the chilli powder and also the hot sauce in the marinade too.
Remove the chicken from the egg mix and roll well in the flour and spices to cover the entire surface. You only need to do this once, even if you are used to layering up when making this recipe traditionally.
Heat a shallow saucepan with a small amount of oil (your choice, I like rapeseed) and fry the chicken for about 90 seconds on each side. The pan needs to be hot enough to sizzle as soon as the meat goes in and you cook it just long enough to seal the meat and see the flour coating to start to colour. Transfer the meat then to the baking tray and cook in the oven, it should take roughly 25 minutes.

It’s that simple, just serve! For a southern style feast I like to dish it up with more hot sauce, corn on the cob and a good number of pickles.

Variations- play with heat levels by adding more chilli and paprika to the spice mix or add some oats or linseeds to the dry mix for some texture. You could use legs/thighs etc however if you are points or calorie counting then you need to account for this due to higher fat content. The coating also works really well on cauliflower for the veggies amoung us-just cut up the florets and dip in the egg mix (don’t marinate) then roll in flour and bake at 180 for about 20 minutes.

Salt Masters

salt header

If you have an interest in cooking and don’t live under a stone, chances are that you’ve heard recent buzzing about Himalayan Salt- the pretty pink sensation coming to table tops and bathtubs near you!!!

You may well ask why I care about this and I will give you two reasons. The first is, rather obviously, dinner. Salt is one of the most widely used and massively misunderstood components of a decent meal and if you hadn’t noticed yet, I do like a decent meal. The second is that I’m an Essex girl, and if I have to live with the constant barrage of dubious Dad-jokes and stereotypes associated with my region then I shall take my revenge by constantly shouting about some of the really good people, businesses and products that come from Essex too.

Enter Salt Masters, providing you with oodles of Himalayan Salt products from their base in sunny Romford, just up the A12 from this food fan. You can have a check of their lovely website here  and will see all kinds of products ranging from culinary salt to cooking blocks to bath salts to therapeutic lamps and bricks, and back again. I’d like to talk about their culinary salt for a little while.

So what’s the buzz, it’s just salt, right? We-ll, sort of right. In general terms when we say ‘Salt’ we mean sodium chloride, NaCl for those of us that didn’t bunk off chemistry GCSE, and in the loosest way all table salt is the same in that it mostly contains sodium chloride (usually well over 90%). The origin of Himalayan salt, mostly in the Punjab foothills, gives it a unique mineral profile of additional trace compounds and rosy colouration which makes it stand out from many other culinary rock salts. Salt Masters salt is mined without explosives and processed without additional flavour enhancers or anti-caking agents making the product that ends up at your letter box is pure and pink and unadulterated, right from the source.

heart salt

Coarse ground Himalayan pink salt from Salt Masters

You have to take a moment to note that as condiments go, this stuff is very pretty and makes an eye catching filler for your grinder or salt pig- it is has a particularly pleasing look when mixed with dried rosemary leaves  in a clear grinder. The coarse ground culinary salt is great to use as an abrasive when mashing up herbs or spices to make rubs and marinades, much as the way you might use traditional rock salt or sea salt. The fine ground salt will also make a pretty spectacular glass-rim garnish for the tequila fans amoung us.

I think the most striking difference I have found in using the Salt Masters culinary salt though is that it tastes, er, really salty…….That sounds like a daft thing to say as what else would it taste of? But this strength of flavour means you really don’t need to use that much of it to enhance your cooking. Using less is something of a double win as although you do need an amount of salt in your diet, there are numerous medical concerns with consuming too much, and when you don’t need to use as much your stash lasts longer and is effectively cheaper! I have found the pink Salt Masters salt especially effective in sweet dishes to enhance rich desserts that could be potentially sickly otherwise and would recommenced this salt in particular for salted caramel or dark chocolate recipes- I will be trying some in a chocolate fondant the next time we have dinner guests. Below is a really easy salted chocolate fudge recipe which works wonderfully with this salt and is a perfect pick me up with a cup of tea or an indulgent movie night treat. As this fudge uses chocolate to set you don’t need to fuss about with endless boiling or sugar thermometers, you just need a good saucepan and a spare fifteen minutes.

Check out the full Salt Masters site here with free delivery on everything over £50!

https://www.himalayansaltmasters.co.uk/

Pink-Salted Chocolate Fudge

 

Kit:
4″x6″ rectangular baking tin
Greaseproof paper
Silicone backed spoon

100g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids)
1 can condensed milk
230g soft dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fine ground Salt Masters Himalayan Salt
1/2 tsp coarse Salt Masters Himalayan Salt

Line your tin with greaseproof paper and set aside, then break your chocolate up into pieces. Pleeeeeeeeease don’t use cheap cooking chocolate for this recipe invest in a couple of decent, high cocoa content bars! I particularly like the fair trade 80% dark chocolate from Co-op.
Melt the butter in a reasonably sturdy pan then take off the heat and stir in the condensed milk, then the brown sugar. When thoroughly mixed, return to the heat until it just starts to bubble. Start to stir now (don’t use a wooden spoon) and maintain a low, steady simmer for 2 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and add the fine salt, vanilla extract and the chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and combined with the sugar mix.
Return to the heat until it just starts to simmer again then take the pan off, stir quickly once more then pour the mixture into your tin. If you have a silicon spoon use this to level the top or simply give the pan a good wiggle to distribute the fudge out evenly.

Set aside on a heat proof surface for 2 hours then scatter the coarse salt evenly over the top. The fudge will take over night at room temperature or 2-3 hours in the fridge to set fully, do it at room temperature if possible as the set will be better.
Cut into pieces with a sharp knife and serve or gift as you wish, it will keep in an air tight container for a couple of weeks, if you can resist it for that long!

fudge

 

 

*this post has been sponsored by Himalayan Salt Masters and I was gifted two bags of their salt for this purpose, however I would assure you that I would never recommend products or services with anything but my genuine opinion. 

 

Gin & Tonic Jelly

maids

The Happy Couple plus bridesmaids (I’m the one on the end who clearly eats the most).

Some many months ago the Older Male Sibling got his self engaged to a lovely lady and two years of planning and scribbling and testing and head scratching began for many people.

This culminated in a wonderful day out last week during which everyone looked gorgeous and said lovely things and celebrated this irritatingly marvelously photogenic couple and their genuinely heart warming commitment to one another. Congrats, dudes. Sincerely.

But you’ve had enough of the spotlight so back to ME! Me, the sister, the sweets factory, the purveyor of Wedding Favours.  I was happy to be asked to provide little treats for the wedding guests and after a few brief conversations that you don’t care about we agreed on a whisky marmalade for the fellas and a gin and lime jelly for the ladies.  I found recipes, I was happy, and I sat back to relax for roughly 10 months before I had to start making them.

Then March arrived and it was time to start cooking. Oh wait, I forgot the bit where I got a new phone over the summer and chucked out my knackered old Samsung. My knackered old Samsung that had the gin and lime jelly recipe saved on it. I think that cumulatively I spend a solid day of my life trying to find it again, to no avail. What I did find was a ton of ridiculously long and drawn out methods to mix sugar and citrus into a sticky and visually acceptable substance to adorn the wedding breakfast tables.
Shit.
Due to having a successful but time consuming boys’ recipe down, I really did not have time to spend 3-4 hours per batch (with overnight soaking) on a full on lime marmalade for the gals too. Ten add in my own self mutilation of changing day jobs the week before the big day and spending two days away training and I had very little time left and all of it was more or less in the middle of the three nights leading up to the day when I had to deliver.
Shit!!!!!!
On realising that a traditionally touted method wasn’t going to do it, I went back to my beat up and batter-stained recipe book to see if I could find any old jams or experiments that I could tinker with to come up with 75 jars in less than six cooking sessions. I came across a long forgotten carrot ‘marmalade’ from days long past which was easy to make, vegan and coeliac friendly and dammit it might just work!

If there is another recipe in the world where you can swap carrots for limes and it works just as well, well, I would like to hear about it!

jars

I am happier with this recipe than I can really express, not just because it saved my contribution to the McBarton Wedding Extravaganza, it’s also bloody nice although something of an acquired taste with a definite finish of tonic water. It is pretty sweet, what with all the sugar, and lime zest can be a little bit tough if you don’t get your soaking in or are lazy on the zesting but the over riding result spread over a warm buttered bagel is frankly a tangy blob of jiggly breakfast heaven. It will go equally well on a scone or stirred into some Greek yoghurt.

The lemon and juniper berry garnish came to mind as a testament to the current trend of super G&T garnish game and can easily be left out.

Also, it’s really not that boozy!

Boomboom G&T Jelly

Makes roughly 1.5l or 15x100ml gift sized jars

limes

1kg white granulated sugar
500g limes- get the softest ones you can find and keep them out of the fridge the day before use
350ml Tonic Water
125ml liquid pectin
Gin
1 lemon (optional)
Juniper Berries (optional)

Begin by quartering then finely slicing the lemon (if using) then covering the slices in gin and leaving to soak.

Next thoroughly wash and rinse your jars and lids, then put the jars into a cold oven on a baking tray. Switch the oven on now to about 80 degrees.

Wash your limes then thoroughly zest them- try to get as much as you can as there is so much flavour in the zest but try to avoid taking any pith with it. Once zested, juice the remaining lime thoroughly. I find the best way is to just slice the lime in half and jam in a fork then basically smush the lime around the fork as much as possible. You will discover a million paper cuts you didn’t know you had with this technique however! If you can dig a little bit of flesh out too then all the better but again, avoid the pithy bits.
Mix the juice and the zest and set aside, and if possible give them a good 10 minutes or more to soak.

For the sake of ease, clear your work area now and measure out your pectin into a glass and put this in easy reach of the stove.Pour out a glass of gin and get a teaspoon at the ready for this.  Also put your juniper berries into a small dish that is easy to get into and find a cocktail stick or similar to fish out the lemon slices with as you need to work quickly. Have a thick tea towel and a solid chopping board or heat proof mat handy too.

Turn up the oven to 100 degrees.

mix

use a deep pan for this recipe, it really bubbles up!

Empty your sugar into a large preserving pan then mix in the tonic water and go oooooh as it goes all fizzy for a moment. On a note about the sugar, you can use golden caster sugar as it won’t  change the set or the taste very much but will give a more yellowy colour to the finished jelly so if you are making multiple batches it is best to keep to the same sugar so they look the same. Stir in the lime juice and zest then whack up the heat. The sugar will dissolve quickly, don’t stir the mix after this point as it will mess with the heat distribution. Bring the mix to a gentle boil then simmer for 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan for this time as it is a total bitch to clean this stuff off the stove if it boils over. Just take my word for this. After 5 minutes, take the pan off the heat and pour in the pectin WHILST STIRRING. Seriously, this is important to avoid a poor consistency in the end product. Stir it while it is going in then stir it for a full minute whilst off the heat.
Then, put it back on the heat and take your jars out of the oven and onto a heat proof surface (your chopping board).

Boil the jelly mix for a further 2 minutes then take off the heat.

Working quickly, put a slice of the lemon and a juniper berry (or several for large jars) into the base of each jar. At the very last moment before filling the jar, add 1-2 teaspoons of gin per 100ml of the jar capacity. So 2 tsp for the gift jars I used or scale this up if you are using bigger jars. Spoon in the hot jelly mix then seal the jar and set aside to cool. After 10 minutes or so wipe the jars over with a damp cloth as spills are easier to clean while it is still warm.

And that’s it. Depending on conditions they may take 2-3 hours or overnight to set (bigger jars take longer). You can speed up the process in the fridge but hot jars+ cold fridge= potential temperature disturbance for your food so this is best avoided.  If the set is slow you might see the zest all rising to the top, in which case just give the jar a gentle jiggle to redistribute.

They are lovely to gift but keep one for yourself to enjoy with a warm baked good or tipped over ice cream with your next Netflix binge.

Sealed, these will keep for months but should go into the fridge once opened and finished in 2 weeks.

The Skinny Thing- Spicy Pilaf

bulgar wheat: high fibre nutty goodness wholefood of the gods!!!!

I came up with this frankly brilliant dinner whilst trying to research a weight watchers friendly dish that I could feed to guests on a Friday night without violating the Geneva convention. One serving will set you back maybe 7 smart points or if you are on no count method no more than 3 of your weeklies (for the apricots) assuming you use olive oil from your daily freebie 2 tspns. Calorie counters shouldn’t go over 350 at a push I think it is free on slimming world. It is high fibre at around 18% by dry weight plus 12% protein, easy to prep and very easy to make vegan friendly if you stick to veg stock, however I must now add that I like it served alongside a chunk of roast chicken.
Enjoy.

Boomboom Spicy Pilaf

easy spicy pilaf, shown here with some added turkey breast

Serves 4
150g bulgar wheat
600ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 heaped tsp each of garammasala, curry powder, mustard seeds, cinnamon
½ tsp dried chilli flakes or hot paprika (optional)
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 TBspn Olive oil or coconut oil
2 red onions
4 cloves garlic
2 large carrots
4 celery sticks
10-15 dried apricots
200g fresh spinach
Fresh coriander to serve

 

Put the dry spices into a large sautee pan and heat gently until the aromas start to release or the mustard seeds show signs of popping! Make up your stock at this point. Turn the heat off the pan for a minute to avoid spitting then add the oil, finely chopped onions, carrots and minced garlic. Cook through for five minutes before adding the chopped celery (chuck the leaves in too if they are there). Stir in the dry buglar wheat thoroughly, add the stock, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Slice the apricots in half and add these now to the pan and cook uncovered for a few more minutes until the bulgar is soft and most of the liquid absorbed. Stir in the shredded spinach right at the end and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately topped with roughly chopped coriander.

 

Variations- you could add raisins or dried coconut if the mood takes you, add a dollop of natural yoghurt if you over spice it. Add some chopped chicken or turkey breast after the onions and carrots if you wish just ensure it is all cooked through before serving. Leftovers work well cold in a lunchbox too!