I hate wasting anything so whilst I was experimenting with sour dough baguettes – badly at times – I had some left over. Instead of throwing the bread away I made croutons. They can be used now or frozen and are always fabulous in soups and salads.
The recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare, 12-15 minutes to cook, 20 minutes to cool and 5 minutes to store. Easy to do whilst you are doing something else – preparing supper or loading/unloading the dishwasher. It makes less waste and makes salads and soups that extra special – a no brainer.
Turn your oven onto 190C (375F or gas mark 5).
It doesn’t matter what kind of bread you have left over but cut it into 1cm cubes.
Place in a roasting tin douse with olive oil, about 1-2 tbs depending on how many croutons you have. Using tongs or your hands make sure each cube is covered in oil. Then season (with salt and pepper) and/or flavour with other spices such as Cajun, ground cumin, herbs, garlic, grated parmesan or anything you fancy. If you have a dish in mind then you can flavour your croutons to match the dish.
Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes checking and turning half way through. The croutons need to be golden and crispy. Let cool and store in a jar if you are going to use them within a couple of days or in a plastic freezer box or plastic bag to go in the freezer. I normally use a handful per person. Use within 3 months.
Early summer is here and that means soft fruits. However much we love eating them it is always fabulous to find some in the depth of winter to remind of the summer gone and even better for the one to come.
I’m in Bulgaria at the moment, having driven through Hungry and Romania where cherries are everywhere – on stalls on the roadside, in the villages and in supermarkets. I always buy my fruit from the same stall in the local village where the quality is good and the ladies who own the stall can understand my pigeon Bulgarian (a few numbers, please and thank you and a lot of pointing!).
So apart from just eating the cherries out of the bag I am going to preserve some for the Autumn and Winter. Sugar and alcohol are great preservers and you can choose any alcohol you wish. There are lots of recipes for bourbon cherries but as I don’t like bourbon that is not going to happen. You can use amaretto, whiskey, brandy or anything you have at home. I am using vanilla vodka left over from a party when Rica was making cocktails.
I am filling 6 jars each 250ml, which takes about 250g of stoned cherries pushed in really tight.
You will need:
1.5kg of stoned cherries (about 1.75kg of cherries depending on how many you eat whilst you stone them)
500ml of water
1 lemon (zest and juice)
300g of granulated sugar
Vanilla pod or 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste (optional depending on the alcohol). If you do not have either vanilla extract will also work. If you do have a vanilla pod never through it away when finished with but have a large jar of caster sugar and add all pods to that and they will impart their flavour and then you will have vanilla sugar.
6 tbs of alcohol (I have used Vanilla vodka left over from a party!) or a little more if you like a stronger flavour but be careful you can add more but not take it out.
Sterilise your jars – see previous post
When stoning cherries you can buy a great little contraption, which stones cherries and olives. You can get one in most larger supermarkets or online. You can get a stoner machine but I have always found this one great. It makes stoning very easy and though possible by hand – by cutting the cherries in half and going round the stone with a small, sharp knife – I don’t think I would bother. I’m stoning my cherries whilst watching my favourite medical drama!
Once you have stoned the cherries continue to prepare the syrup. Zest and juice the lemon – always zest a lemon first otherwise once juiced the skin goes all squidgy and you will never get the zest off. To zest for this recipe you will need to grate your zest with the small grater (the next one down from the cheese grater). Do not use a traditional zester, which gives you long strips of zest and the flavour will not impart as well. You will need about 3-4 tbs of lemon juice.
Add the zest, juice, water, vanilla pod or paste (if using) and sugar to a saucepan. Bring to the boil on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and then cook for a further minute. Taste the syrup to ensure that you like it and think it goes with the cherries. Adjust if you think it needs it for example add more vanilla and/or lemon. Get use to trusting your taste buds. Strain the syrup through a sieve.
Add a tablespoon of your chosen alcohol to each jar and then add the syrup to the jars. Make sure you push the cherries down into the jars and cover the cherries with the syrup. Make sure that there are no air holes by using the handle of a teaspoon pressed into the jar to ensure that the syrup gets into all spaces. I once made sun-dried tomatoes without doing this (next post) and didn’t get all of the air out and the tomatoes started to ferment!
Add the lids and tip upside down to mix the syrup with the alcohol, label and store until the you need some reminder of early summer.
It is the beginning of the elderflower season which lasts between 2-4 weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June. I have caught it early this purely because I am in France for 4 days and last year after I had already made my cordial for the year using elderflowers from Brockwell Park in London, I noticed how prolific it was in the village where I spend time in France; Douriez.
I struggled a little today in collecting elderflowers as it was so early but managed to get enough for a few bottles for this year. Just make sure that you get heads where the buds are in full bloom. You can see from the pictures below the stages of bloom and you need heads in full bloom.
Every year I seem to have to buy buckets for this process. Each year I buy them and hope they won’t be used by anyone else but they get stolen by either my husband or my children for cleaning cars!
So, yet again, I have bought new buckets. Fortunately, it is not the end of the world as buckets are only 99p in B&Q and were only €2.39 in France. This year, I am going to hide them in one of the wardrobes upstairs!
My French buckets have a measuring guide inside so it makes it even easier to measure out the water. If you are measuring the water out first just make sure that you add the water first before the sugar otherwise it won’t be so easy once the sugar is already in the bucket.
I have bought 4 buckets each with a capacity of 10 litres. This enabled me to make 4 buckets (not full) of cordial and have a bucket to prepare everything in.
To start off with, I have cleaned them and disinfected them by filling them with boiling water from the kettle – a boring and laborious job but better to be safe than sorry. Of course, you can use large bowls, a preserving pan etc. Ensure they are sterilised in the same way.
Once your buckets/bowls are ready we can get on with the cordial.
For the cordial you need citric acid, which stops the cordial from fermenting therefore enabling you to keep it for longer. I have previously had problems getting sufficient amounts of citric acid from chemists as they generally limit how much you can buy at any one time due to it being use to cut cocaine to thin it out!!
Therefore, I use to spend a Saturday morning, before making the cordial, walking around South London to different chemists collecting enough to make a year’s worth of cordial. Now you can buy it online in kilo bags. This year I bought a 3kg bag. It lasts for ages so if you do buy a large bag and do not use it all you can save it for next year just make sure it is sealed properly.
I use extra heads of elderflower as I like a stronger flavour of cordial but if you want a more subtle flavour only use 20 heads. Make sure you remove the leaves and stems of the heads. When counting out the heads I usually ban everyone from the kitchen so I don’t lose count – easily done. If you have a few smaller heads just bunch them together to make a standard sized head and throw them in.
I always make as much as I can to try and make it last for the whole year however the following ingredients are enough for 4 litres (4 x 750ml bottles):
30 heads of elderflowers
1.5 litres of boiling water
1.5kg of sugar (it doesn’t matter whether the sugar is granulated or caster as it will dissolve in the water in any event. I have used caster only because that was the biggest bag I could find in the supermarket and I am always for the easiest option)
100g of citric acid
3 waxed lemons, sliced (you can use 2 lemons and other citric fruit to give that additional depth including oranges, bergamots, grapefruit but I like to keep it simple with a classic taste especially as I use the cordial in cocktails).
If you want to make more, which I do, just multiply the ingredients.
This year, I made 11.25 litres or 15 bottles of 75cl (the maximum heads I could easily get despite my arms and ankles being covered in nettle stings!) Therefore, I used 180 heads, 9kg of sugar, 12 litres of boiling water, 9 lemons and 300g of citric acid.
Once everything is ready (you have completed your mise en place – fancy term for chopping and preparation) you can start.
Many recipes state you should wash you elderflower heads but I tend not too but I do take off the leaves and stems and check that there are no bugs in the heads. Again, as we using boiling water it will kill anything and as we filter the finished cordial nothing nasty will go in the bottle.
Add the sugar to your buckets/bowls and then add the boiling water (or the other way round if your container has measurements). Give it a stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Add everything else and leave to cool, covered with a tea towel, for at least 12 hours but preferably 24 hours. Stir every now and then. I normally stir before bed and when I get up in the morning and a couple of times during the day.
Strain the ready cordial through a muslin or a tea towel if you don’t have one (it just takes a bit longer) into sterilised bottles. I quite often have to strain it into a large bowl or a saucepan and then into a jug using a funnel to pour into the bottles.
I collect my bottles from other cordials and ask friends to save theirs for me (as I do jam jars in return for a bottle of cordial/jar of jam). When I am short of bottles I buy them online. If you are thinking of also making elderflower champagne make sure that any bottles you do buy are heavy duty ones. Last year, I made 30 bottles of elderflower champagne putting then in the cellar to ferment for a party at the end of June. When watching TV one night, we heard a load of banging/explosions – thinking there was some action on the South Circular in London as there often is – we ignored it until it continued and we realised that it was the elderflower champagne exploding in the cellar covering the ceiling and walls with sticky liquid and the floor with glass. At least I had got the fermentation right but didn’t have enough for the party! Therefore, unless you are not going to ever make champagne make sure your bottles are sturdy enough for dual purpose. It is a shame to buy the bottles then have to buy different ones if you want to make champagne. Make your equipment work hard for you.
Label and store in a cool place. I store mine in my wine rack in the cellar. Other recipes state that the cordial will last for a couple of months or longer however I always get a year out of mine – if it lasts that long. If you think it needs it just restrain.
Enjoy as a non-alcoholic cocktail, with champagne in cocktails, in fools or anything that needs an additional touch of flavour. Once you have made it it will be a life long habit and you’ll wonder why you ever spent £2.50 for a bottle in the supermarket.
If you have any problems contact me and I will help you.