Miss Scarlet’s Vittles

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Dutch rhubarb and Sicilian lemons by the counter.

I’ve been a bad food writer. I was passing through my favourite greengrocer and second home, Stoke Newington Green, the other morning, picking up a basket of mushrooms and pumpkins, clementines and walnuts. So far, so orange and brown and seasonally correct. I almost made it out. There, by the counter, was my temptress and seducer. A box of definitely-out-of-season Dutch rhubarb so spectacularly scarlet it was in my basket quicker than you can say crimson. Reader, I was weak.

I love red. I can’t resist it. The late, legendary American decorator Albert Hadley believed you should have a touch of red in every room. (His powerful client list reads like a roster of libraries, museums and hospital wings with all its Astors, Paleys, Rockefellers, Gettys and Whitneys.) A cushion, a rug, a vase of roses or berries, a pot of amaryllis, an enamel colander or a lacquer tray. Just a shot. It shakes up a room like a slick of red lipstick against a pale face. It’s also my emergency prescription for anything that looks too wearyingly tasteful.

So anyway, this is my long-way-around attempt to explain my food writer apostasy. Rhubarb in November. So shoot me. It will leave a lovely stain.

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Kentish plums.

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Kentish quince.

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Egyptian pyramid.

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So pretty.

Stoke Newington Green, 39 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0NX

Open every day, 7am – 10ish pm

 

Rhubarb and vanilla jam

 

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Sundae breakfast.

If there is a prettier way of starting the day than a spoonful of this jam swirled through some Greek yoghurt, I don’t know what it is.

Makes 4-5 340g jars

1kg rhubarb, trimmed weight, cut into 2.5cm chunks
1kg jam sugar with added pectin
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
Juice of a small orange
Juice and pips of a small lemon

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Macerating in the pan.

Pour a layer of sugar in the bottom of a preserving pan or large saucepan and then add a layer of rhubarb. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod with a small, sharp knife and place the seeds on top of the rhubarb with the pod. Continue layering the sugar and rhubarb, finishing with a layer of sugar. Cover and leave overnight to macerate.

The next day, place a couple of saucers in the freezer. Pour the juices over the rhubarb and tie the pips from the lemon in a small circle of muslin with kitchen string. Place the bundle in the pan too.

Warm the jam gently, stirring it slowly from time to time to dissolve the sugar without breaking up the chunks. Once the sugar is dissolved, bring to a rolling boil and boil rapidly until the setting point is reached. This should take about 8-10 minutes. This is a soft-set jam so don’t wait for it to get too solid. A droplet of the jam on one of the chilled saucers should just wrinkle when you push it with your finger.

Remove from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes and remove the muslin bag. Seal the jam in warm, sterilised jars. Either discard the vanilla pod or snip a little bit into each jar. Unopened and kept in a cool, dark place the jam should keep for a year.

Lazy tart

Debora's Lazy Tart

When we were here a couple of years ago, I wrote about my rugby-playing nephew Angus who was supposed to eat 4,000 calories a day and seemed keen to derive a fair amount of these from Nutella.

Well – despite a startlingly grown-up beard – he still has a child’s sweet tooth and an enduring affection for the chocolate and hazelnut spread. Last night we needed a quick sweet fix to round off dinner and together we came up with the 5 minute Nutella and peach tart. For a lazy tart, it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

Five minute Nutella and peach tart

Nutella and peach tart

1 circle ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
A generous amount of Nutella
3-4 ripe peaches, cut into segments
A small handful of hazelnuts, roughly chopped, or flaked almonds (optional)
Some egg wash or milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment (or use the parchment the pastry comes rolled in) and lay the circle of pastry on it. With a small, sharp knife, cut a border about 2cm in from the edge of the pastry disc, being careful not to cut all the way through the pastry. Brush the border with the egg wash or milk.

Using a spatula, spread a generous, even layer of Nutella within the border and arrange the sliced peaches over the top, cramming them quite close together. Scatter the nuts over the top if using and then bake for about 20 minutes, until the pastry if puffed up and golden and the peaches are slightly caramelised around the edges. Serve warm.

Angus John Robertson & Debora's Lazy Tart

Deck the halls

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Every December, I buy a plain evergreen wreath from Mrs Grover’s stall at Columbia Road. She sells her own beautifully decorated wreaths but I love the slow, scented ritual of creating my own. This year, I raided the kitchen cupboards to make a cook’s wreath finished with some of my favourite flavours of the season: oranges and lemons, cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

Making a wreath is incredibly easy and – a bonus – it gives me the chance to get my glue gun out (£2 at a church jumble sale, thank you very much). In my enthusiasm, I always forget how bloody hot the glue gets. Still, and I’m sure Martha would agree, nothing says ‘Happy Christmas’ like a new set of fingerprints.

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You need…

  • A plain wreath
  • Glue – a glue gun works brilliantly, particularly if you are on the run, but any strong, clear-setting glue is fine
  • Green florist’s wire from garden centres or DIY shops
  • Raffia or ribbon
  • A selection from the decorative bits and pieces below


Dried orange slices
Preheat the oven to 130°C/250°F/Gas Mark 1. Slice the oranges about 4mm thick. Lay them out on a tea towel and press out some of their moisture with another tea towel or kitchen paper. Lay them on an ovenproof rack and place it on top of a baking tray. Place in the oven and after the first 15 minutes, turn the oven down to its lowest setting and leave the oranges to dry out for about 5-6 hours, turning them halfway through and opening the door from time to time to let out the steam. Turn off the oven and leave them to continue to dry out in the cooling oven. You can dry apple slices in the same way.

Once the orange slices are completely dry, glue them together in piles of three or four. Poke two holes in the stack of slices with a dowel and thread enough green florists’ wire through the holes to hold them together and to tie them around the wreath. Hide the wire by sticking a star anise over the top.
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Cinnamon bundles
You can buy packs of cinnamon for crafting quite cheaply on Ebay – I bought mine, £2.50 for 40x8cm sticks, from www.floristrywarehouse.com. Stick them together in bundles, tie some floristry wire around them with enough excess to tie them around the wreath. Hide the wire with a raffia or ribbon bow.

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Oranges and lemons
Whole fruits look great and smell wonderful tied to your wreath. Poke a hole through the fruit with a skewer, thread some wire through the hole, leaving enough excess to tie around the wreath. If you like, you can stud the fruit with cloves.

Other things you can tie or stick onto your wreath if you like…

  • Pine cones
  • Bundles of woody herbs such as rosemary or thyme
  • Bits of holly or ivy
  • Nuts
  • Sprigs of eucalyptus or laurel


To assemble your wreath…
Simply tie all of your orange slices, lemons and bundles of cinnamon to your wreath, twisting the wire several times at the back of the wreath to secure them firmly. Trim off the ends of the wire with secateurs. Lighter things, such as apple slices and nuts can be glued directly onto the wreath.

Baking for pleasure

Quince Tart Tatin

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes on my blog you might notice there’s an abundance of sweet things – enough pies, cakes and tarts to stock a rather ambitious bake sale. But I have a confession to make. I don’t really have a sweet tooth. My sister in law marvels that I can keep chocolate in my cupboards for weeks. I can eat a slice of cake or a biscuit I’ve baked and send the rest off to work with Sean so he can share it with his colleagues, or take them with me to the park to hand out to my dog walking posse without a glimmer of regret.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enormously greedy. Warm bread, hunks of cheese, slices of garlicky salami, salty olives or anchovies, creamy curries, spicy chorizo, how do I love thee? Let me count the plates.

But I love to bake. I love the craft of it and the sweetly intoxicating aroma that fills the kitchen. Opening a recipe book and reading ‘Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy…’ has the same effect on me as ‘Once upon a time…’ has on a fractious toddler.

When we have friends over for supper, making the pudding is my favourite part of the prep. Last Friday I found some beautiful golden quince in our local Turkish supermarket and couldn’t wait to get them home to turn them into the final course of our dinner on Saturday night.

Today I’m giving you three recipes, each component of our pudding of quince tarte tatin, Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream with candied walnuts. You can make everything ahead, bar putting the tart in the oven, so there’s no last-minute faff to induce a profound craving for Valium. Or you could simply make one or two of the recipes – serve the tart with crème fraîche, serve the ice cream by itself with an extra trickle of honey over the top and/or some of the walnuts or simply serve the walnuts as part of a platter of dried figs, prunes and apricots. Do whatever you like, so long as you do it with pleasure.

Quince tarte tatin

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Don’t be put off if you don’t have a tarte tatin tin. Most shallow, solid-bottomed cake tins will do. You can even make it in an oven-proof frying pan – this means you can cook and bake the tart in the same pan too, so less washing up. This is a real ‘ta-dah!’ tart. It looks very impressive but it’s really very easy to make.

4-5 biggish quince
200g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
500ml water
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
Juice of half a lemon, plus a bit more for the lemony water
100g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
375g ready-made puff pastry – I like the one from The Dorset Pastry Company but any all-butter puff pastry will do

Put the sugar, water, split vanilla pod and lemon juice into a large pan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil hard for 5 minutes.

While the syrup is bubbling away, fill a bowl with cold water and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Peel and core the quince and cut each half into thirds, dropping them into the lemony water as you go to stop them from discolouring. When they’re all ready, drain and drop them into the syrup to poach for 5 minutes. Tip into a colander and leave the fruit to steam for a few minutes so it dries out a bit.

Melt the butter and sugar in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium-high heat (if you’re going to cook the tart in the frying pan, you want to use one that’s about 30cm in diameter) and let it bubble away for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Tip the poached quince into the pan and turn them over so they’re well coated. Cook, carefully turning the fruit over, until the buttery syrup turns into a clear, light caramel. Remove from the heat.

When cool enough to handle, either arrange the fruit, core-side up or side by side, in the pan or in a 30cm tarte tatin dish or cake tin. Make sure the fruit is crammed in tightly with as few gaps as possible. Spoon any of the caramel that remains in the frying pan over the top of the fruit if you’re baking the tart in a tatin dish or baking tin. Cool completely.

Roll out the pastry and cut it out into a circle about 1cm larger than the diameter of your tin. Cover the fruit with the pastry and tuck it in tightly around the edges. Make two or three cuts about 4cm long in the top of the pastry and chill until you’re ready to bake it.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan, place a large plate over the top, say a little prayer, and invert the tart onto the plate. Serve warm with the ice cream and walnuts scattered over the top.

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Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream

The ice cream recipe is from Morfudd Richards’ lovely book, Lola’s Ice Creams & Sundaes, with a ripple of honey added by me. This is about the easiest ice cream you’ll ever make – just whisk everything together and tip it into an ice cream maker. No custard-splitting anxiety, just cool deliciousness which goes beautifully with the sweet, perfumed stickiness of the quince.

500ml thick Greek yoghurt
125ml double cream
125g caster sugar
Juice of half a lemon
4-6 tbsps runny honey, lavender, orange blossom or acacia honey are good

To make the ice cream, mix everything together in a bowl until smooth and well blended. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Put into a plastic container, cover the top of the ice cream with waxed or greaseproof paper and seal with a lid.

Freeze for an hour or two until firm but not completely set. Remove from the freezer and make holes in the ice cream with a spoon. Pour over the honey and swirl gently with a spatula. Return to the freezer for a few hours until completely frozen.

Candied walnuts

I followed the instructions from the Simply Recipes site for the candied walnuts. Their recipe is super easy but you need to hold your nerve a bit and work quickly. Have everything to hand before you start messing with the caramel – the lined baking sheet, the forks for separating the nuts -and keep the walnuts close to the hob so you can stir them in as soon as the caramel is the right colour. I think adding some flaky sea salt at the end makes them even more special, though you can leave it out if you like.

100g caster sugar
About 150g walnut halves
Good pinch or two of flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Scatter the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes until fragrant and slightly toasted – if they’re not quite done, put them in for longer and check after each minute as they can burn very quickly. Cool.

Warm the sugar in a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan (ideally one without a dark interior so you can keep an eye on the colour of the caramel). Once the sugar starts to liquefy, stir gently with a wooden spoon. As soon as it’s completely melted and a beautiful, rich amber colour, tip in the walnuts and stir quickly to coat. Spread them out on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a Siplat mat and, working very quickly, use two forks to separate the walnuts from each other. Sprinkle with the salt if you like then cool completely. When cold, store in an airtight container until ready to use.

A little gentle preparation and forty tiny claws

Jars of Mincemeat

When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?

Michel de Montaigne, Essays, 1580

It’s about that time. Lights go up on Stoke Newington High Street for Eid and Christmas, the shops fill with glitzy cards and brightly coloured baubles and otherwise sane souls believe the affection of the ages can be conveyed by hastily wrapped scented candles or cashmere scarves.

I love Christmas. I love the sight of people dragging trees down Church Street, queuing for my turkey at Godfrey’s, midnight mass at St Mary’s and most of all, I love the peace that descends on London for those few short days. In order for me not to careen into the holiday like Wile E. Coyote screeching off a cliff, I try to do a little gentle preparation in the weeks before to make the run up as pleasurable as possible.

And today’s recipe is as gentle a recipe as ever met heat. Making your own mincemeat fulfils that desire for a homemade Christmas without heaping on the stress. It also makes the house smell wonderful, better than any scented candle. Take THAT, Jo Malone.

I’m keen on simple recipes at the moment as they leave me with maximum kitten time. Yes, kittens, life’s greatest deadline-dodging displacement activity. After Oscar died last year and free-spirit Liberty went missing, never to return, in January our house has been sadly lacking in feline presence. Chairs remained unscratched. Roast chickens sat unmolested on the kitchen counter. It was miserable, though Barney might disagree.

Enter Dixie and Prune, slaloming across the marble counter, scaling ten feet of curtain as though it’s nothing, chasing each other’s tails, loving Barney into grumpy submission as they edge their way onto his favourite chair and crowd into his basket. They sit on my shoulders as I type like purring epaulettes, chase the cursor across the screen and generally show disdain for anything as undignified as, oh, earning a living. It’s wonderful.

All 3 together Begrudgingly, Barney shares his favourite chair

Prune It’s hard to know whether Prune’s laughing at you or preparing to eat you. Probably a bit of both.

Prune & Barney ‘You will love me.’

APPLE, PEAR AND GINGER MINCEMEAT

Apple, Pear & Ginger Mincemeat

This mincemeat is intensely fruity and the crystallized ginger adds a dash of sweet heat. It contains no suet, which I think gives it a brighter, fresher flavour. Make some now and it’ll have time to mature for Christmas, though I like to keep a jar back to enjoy next year, too. Use it in mince pies, of course, but it’s also very good as a stuffing for baked apples and delicious in my Mincemeat Crumble Tart.

The recipe comes from River Cottage Handbook No 2, by Pam ‘the jam’ Corbin, queen of all things jarred, bottled and preserved.

Makes approximately 4x450g jars

1kg Bramley apples
Finely grated zest and juice of 2-3 oranges (you need 200ml juice)
500g firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm cubes
200g currants
200g raisins
200g sultanas
100g orange marmalade
250g demerara sugar
½ tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground ginger
1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ nutmeg, grated
50ml ginger wine or cordial (optional, I had neither so I used the syrup from a jar of stem ginger)
100g chopped walnuts or almonds
50ml brandy or sloe gin

Peel and core the apples and chop them into large chunks. Put them into a saucepan with the orange juice. Cook gently until they are soft and fluffy then blend into a smooth purée.

Put the purée into a large bowl and add all of the other ingredients, except the brandy or gin. Mix thoroughly, then cover and leave to stand for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 130°C/Gas Mark 1/2. Put the mincemeat into a large baking dish or roasting tin and bake, uncovered, for 2-2 ½ hours. Stir in the brandy or gin, then spoon into warm, sterilized jars, making sure there aren’t any air pockets. Seal and store in a dry, dark, cool place until Christmas. Use within 12 months.