Friday, 23 July 2010

Breaking in my new apron...

I received a fantastic gift this week from another blogger.  SnafflesMummy made me a beautiful apron that I absolutely love.  Thank you!  (Click here to see her cute blog.)

To break in my new apron, I wore it while we worked on a new kitchen project.  My in-laws are involved with a cooperative farm, and they are responsible for the beetroot section of the farm.  They recently harvested their beetroot crop, and gave us a bag of their freshly picked baby beetroot.

We really wanted to pickle some of it so that we could enjoy it throughout the year.

Here's our simple pickled beetroot process:

1. Sterilize storage jars.  Fill with boiling water, then empty and put in the oven on a baking sheet until ready to use.  Keep it on a low temperature.  If you are using jars with seals, soften the seals.

2. Wash the beetroot.  Cut off the leaves, but do not yet top and tail.  Then boil the beetroot for about 30 minutes in heavily salted water.  (Adjust cooking time according to the size of the beets; we had quite small beets.)

3. Remove and drain the beetroot.  Rinse to remove excess salt.  Then top and tail them using a small knife.  This should make them quite easy to peel.  Holding them in your hands, you should be able to just slide the beetroot out of its skin.  Put the prepared beetroot into the storage jars.

4. Bring pickling vinegar to the boil.  When it is boiling, remove from heat and pour directly into the jars over the beetroot.  Put on the lids as quickly as possible so that they seal.

The beetroot pickled like this will keep for years.  It's great to pull out later and slice into salads or cook with.

We didn't want to waste the rest of the beetroot that we didn't need for pickling.  So we decided to make a vegetable stock.  All of the washed beetroot leaves got tossed into a big pot with any other extra vegetable bits we had, including some garlic and onion offcuts, pea shells and shoots, carrot peels, some spinach, some bits of pepper, etc.  We also tossed in big sprigs of fresh herbs from the garden, and a handful of peppercorns and coriander seeds.  Add just enough water to cover, and then put on a lid and let simmer for a few hours.  We poured the stock through a colander and then a sieve, and then poured into a storage jar (while still very hot) to seal. 

We ended up with a very rich and earthy stock that will be great to use for gravy.  All of the ingredients were either from the garden, or things that would have otherwise been thrown away.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A delicious thing of beauty

Macarons always seemed to be a mythical type of food to me.  I had heard of them in hushed, almost reverent tones from friends who had been to Paris, and seen them make or break aspiring chefs on TV shows.  Macarons are resplendent on the pages of foodie books and magazines.

Until recently, it never occurred to me that I could actually make such a fancy dessert.  However, my husband and I spent a night together making macarons.  It was our first attempt, and I have to admit that I'm pretty proud of it.  So here's our adventure making violet macarons.

First off, you should prepare in advance if you want to make macarons.  One of the most important ingredients is egg whites, and for macarons it's better if they're old.  Separate your eggs a couple of days before making the macarons.  (For more explanation about using old egg whites and more tips for making perfect macarons, click here.)  You'll want to make sure that you have the right ingredients in advance, too.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to macarons, but I loved these violet flavored ones.  Flower flavors tend to be dainty and elegant in a way that pairs really well with macarons.

I basically followed a recipe from the website Tartelette.  Click here for the full recipe and Tarelette post.  The instructions are really clear and easy to follow.  I added purple food coloring to the macaron batter as it looked even prettier and worked perfectly with the violet flavouring.

When you've made the macaron shell batter, use a piping bag to put them out on baking parchment (not just greaseproof paper) or onto a silicone baking sheet.  Then bash up some crystallized violet flowers and sprinkle over the top as desired. 

Remember to let them sit for about half an hour before baking them.  I forgot on one of the batches, and you could definitely tell the difference in the pastry afterwards.  It is worth being patient and getting better results.

Either while the macaron shells are baking or cooling, you can make the butter cream (see photos above).  Now most of the time I make a cheat's butter cream, but for macarons we did the proper filling.  Just like on the Tartelette website, we did both a vanilla  bean and a violet filling.  It always amazes me how opulent fresh vanilla is, and how strongly you can smell it as you cut into a pod.  The violet water turned the most fabulous bright blue colour.  It was amazing how bright it was.

Then the fun part comes: assembling, serving, and eating.  These are an absolute indulgence.  They are both light and rich at the same time.  The flavours and textures really are a delicious thing of beauty.  They are time consuming, but if you have the time, these are a delicious treat.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Fairies in the Garden

I love Furzey Gardens.  My daughters love it at Furzey, and Miriam especially loves the fairy features around the garden.  She was so excited about finding all of the little fairy homes that my husband decided that some fairies should move to our garden just in time for Miriam's birthday.  On the morning of her 4th birthday, she woke up to find a tiny birthday card for her from the fairies, and discovered that a fairy house had shown up overnight.  It's an adorable, natural little house complete with windows with curtains, a working mailbox, milk waiting by the door, a little well with a bucket, etc.  Miriam is thrilled that there are fairies living in our garden now too, and she often goes to check on them.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Sneak Preview

Just a quick sneak preview of great things to come. We made macarons and they were perfect. I'm so pleased with how they turned out and I can't wait to blog them for real.