Sunday 30 September 2007

Blog Stop


It's not that I want to stop the blog but there's bugger all to write about. The same can be said of the Stripey Cat Food Diary. There are a few food items to report but no pictures available so the moment passes and becomes lost.

This time last year I was in France, about to celebrate my birthday alone. It's hard to quantify what has changed for the better since then, possibly nothing.

Anyway, I hope to resume shortly but when that will be, I've no idea.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

A Trip Oop North

We, me, Paul and his mother, Sheila, took a weekend jaunt to her birthplace and the early environs of her life in and around Middleton, which is near Manchester for the geographically challenged among us. For me, it was a novel trip to a part of the country I've never really explored. For Paul and his mother it was nostalgia and history combined. We took pictures of houses and streets, looked in graveyards, found a surprising number of public houses associated with the family tree and Sheila was able to tell us how it all used to look, when there were fields and market places instead of housing estates and shopping malls. Family lore was refreshed and reinforced.


However, history is hungry work and by the evening of Saturday I was looking forward to a good dinner. This part of the country is renowned for black pudding, tripe and a good deal of lard as a cooking fat, hardly ideal for vegans hoping to eat out.

We'd done a bit of research on the web beforehand to see if there was anything available and found the usual selection of small cafes only open during the day and interesting sounding places that were no longer in existence. It all looked rather bleak so eventually we decided to take a relatively long drive to the best sounding place that still had a working website, Greens. This is situated in a leafy gentrified suburb of Manchester which we would never have found without our trusty GPS.

It's not a huge place but modern and fairly sparse in decor it doesn't feel claustrophobic and the noise levels don't preclude civilised conversation which is often the case in popular small venues. Reviews on the web suggested it would be essential to book and I'd agree with that but actually we didn't, instead preferring to use the clever strategy of arriving at opening time, an unfashionable 5:30, and hoping to find a space in the first service. They warned us we'd have to be clear by 7:30 but the staff were attentive and the food prompt so that was no hardship.

We were slightly disappointed to find there were only a couple of vegan options available in each course. The possibilities for starters were the soup of the day, Roasted Tomato, Ginger and something I can't remember or Oyster mushrooms with Peking pancakes. After our long day of sightseeing Paul and I both wanted soup and Sheila decided against a starter at all, so we can't claim to have really tested the starter menu but the soup was excellent, arrived at the table quickly and was nearly as quickly dispatched.

Main courses seemed uninspiring. A Lancashire Hotpot or a Bean and Mushroom Chilli (which doesn't seem to be on the web published menu) so we had one of each and pledged to swap plates half way.

After two bites of my chilli I decided that this was a mistake. The chilli had sounded so dull I wasn't really looking forward to it, but it was delicious, warmly and cleanly spiced with crunchy vegetables and a soothing Dirty Rice as a side. By comparison Paul's Hotpot was only fair. The vegetables were lost in too much sauce, the crispy potato topping a mere garnish so that overall it was unsatisfyingly meagre and unfilling. I was a bit surprised to find pickled cocktail onions in it too instead of fresh baby onions. The relish of pickled red cabbage tasted fine but it seemed to be entirely out of place. Sheila, who is vegetarian not vegan, had the sausage and mash and pronounced it good.

And so to pudding. Only one vegan option, a fruit crumble served with coconut cream. This predictable modern standard for vegan dessert was pretty nice and we enjoyed it. Sheila had a Soft Centred Chocolate pudding and despite saying she wouldn't be able to finish it managed every mouthful so that must have been alright too.

The whole meal, 2 starters, 3 mains, 3 puddings, fizzy water, a bottle of wine and two coffees came to about £70 and we added a tip to this so it wasn't particularly cheap but it was worth it. A genuinely pleasant experience and a real joy for the vegan diner in this wicked world.

I would point out that the owner is not vegetarian and we were given some flyers for his other non veg*n venture which seemed a bit hopeful frankly, and is a pity but he can't be faulted for Greens which is an example many other veggie restaurants would do well to study.

After that we went on to the hotel, a completely different experience but this post has gone on long enough already. Maybe another day...

Saturday 15 September 2007

A Few Notes on the Making of Japanese Quince Jelly

I'm beginning to get into a bit of a muddle between this blog and the Stripey Cat food diary at the moment. I've just completed an entry on apple jelly there but I think there's room for a bit about Japanese Quinces here - they are not usually considered a major foodstuff and yet if you find them in the garden their colour and scent is almost irresistible. They are also packed full of vitamin C so make a worthy addition to the winter store cupboard.

Anyway, there's a lot about the genus at Wikipedia which looks good enough to me, explaining that the naming of the species and hybrids botanically is confused by the casual use of Japonica by gardeners to refer to just about any sort of Chaenomeles regardless of its actual identification. The Chaenomeles genus is NOT the same as the true quince, Cydonia and I suppose the common name arose to help with that differentiation as much as anything.

I don't even own a 'japanese quince', my fruit came from the branches of a plant that overhangs our garden fence. This bush is extremely vigorous and as well as threatening to swamp our greenhouse from above is sending suckers under the fence and up into the greenhouse from below. The thorns are extremely long and vicious making removal a dangerous task.

The fruit though, is fun. Absolutely vile to eat raw because it is so tart, it feels hard and unpromising but has a delicate aroma and a golden glow that encourages further investigation.

Cut them open and the plentiful seeds fall out from roomy seed cases that take up a large part of the centre of the quince. The flesh is jade in colour and slices easily into a large pan.


From this point it's much the same as making any other hard fruit jelly. Barely cover the prepared fruit with water and bring to a gentle simmer to soften the flesh and release the juice. Don't do as I did and allow the pan to boil over, I must have lost at least a pint of juice like that.

When the fruit is softened to a pulp, mash it a bit with a potato masher and strain the whole lot through a jelly bag for a few hours. Best not to squeeze for a beautiful clear jelly and this does make a wonderful glowing pot of loveliness.

Add a pound of sugar to each measured pint of juice, warm to dissolve the sugar and then boil briskly for 10 minutes or so. Something that surprised me was the frothiness of the boiling jelly, far more so than the apple juice I used earlier in the week. Skim off the scum as best you can. The jelly will set more quickly and more firmly than most as it has a lot of pectin in it.

Pot up in sterile jars and cover while hot. The jelly is still very sharp to my taste but refreshing and has a delicate flavour, which I think would take orange flavouring very well. It would be worth experimenting with the rind and juice of a couple of oranges in the next batch to make a Quince Marmalade, which might amuse the philologists among you. It looks beautiful.


Tuesday 11 September 2007


It's autumn now isn't it?

When I reached the UK I discovered that the elderberries in the garden were in full fruit and the blackbirds and starlings hadn't got to them yet so I decided to restock my supply of elderberry cordial.


It's hard to mistake elderberries for anything poisonous but if you have the slightest concern about the berries you've gathered then consult a reliable source for confirmation before proceeding.

Elderberry cordial is an ancient preparation recommended by herbalists for coughs, cold and fevers. It is rich in vitamins and antioxidants and there has been some research showing that there is a quantifiable benefit to the use of elderberry extract for curing colds and flu.

It's terribly easy to make. Gather your elderberries on a dry day, green ones are mildly poisonous so only take plump fully ripened ones. Wash the gathered fruit in plenty of water and remember to lift the berries from the washing container. If you drain the water off through the berries all your work will have been in vain.

Strip them off the umbels into a pan. Some sources suggest that the whole umbel can be used at this stage but I dislike the smell of elder stems, leaves and bark and prefer to reduce it as much as possible. Small stemlets can be ignored.

Add a little water, maybe enough to come a third of the way up the berries or if they are very ripe the water left from washing may be sufficient, and set over a gentle heat to soften and give their juice. Mash them down with a potato masher from time to time until the berries are completely broken up. This will probably take 30 or 40 minutes.

Strain the berries and their juice through a jelly bag. It's o.k. to squeeze it, this isn't a very clear preparation however carefully it's done but obviously don't force through any pips, skins or sticky bits.

Measure the juice and to each 600ml (about a pint) add 300g of granulated sugar (about 1/2 a pound) and two cloves. Bring the whole lot back to boil slowly to allow the sugar to dissolve completely, then simmer briskly for five minutes.

Pour into your prepared small bottles dividing the cloves up evenly. If your bottles are sterile and you put the caps on immediately there should be no need for further processing after bottling and the cordial will keep for several years if needed.

Although this is usually served diluted with hot water to make a soothing drink for the unwell we have discovered it makes a damn fine cocktail with an equal measure of gin or, as I found during the styling of this photo, tequila. Cheers.