It’s another grey, rainy August weekend. There’s no better time to get in the kitchen and try out some of those winter cooking projects you’ve had your eye on. Rich slow cooked casseroles, bubbling jewel-bright jams and fresh baked bread are among the many rewarding options to try. And bonus: none of them will bust the budget!
We’ve given you a basic guide to three staples. Once you’ve got the hang of the concept, you can experiment with your own flavours and techniques to create a new signature dish.
You’ll warm the house and your family’s hearts if you put any of these on the table:
A tagine is a clay pot used in Moroccan cooking, and it’s ideal for slow cooked meals. Start with chicken, lamb, beef, fish or vegetables, add spices like saffron, ginger and turmeric and let it simmer. A lot of tagine dishes also feature fruit, such as chicken with apricots, beef with prunes or fish with preserved lemon and olives.
Marinate your meat overnight before adding to the tagine with onion, garlic and any pulses (chickpeas are popular) you’re using. Add water and simmer on a low stove using a heat diffuser between the stovetop and the tagine. Cook for between two and four hours (less for fish: more for red meat) and open the lid to find a fragrant, steaming dish of tender meat and vegetables.
Tagines are traditionally served in the middle of the table so your family can help themselves. Accompany with bread and/or couscous to soak up the sauce.
If you’ve never made your own bread, this is the perfect time to start. Crusty white loaves, a tangy sourdough, a deliciously chewy dark rye…the possibilities are almost endless!
Starting couldn’t be simpler. You don’t need a breadmaker, or even a loaf tin; just bread flour, yeast and a bit of elbow grease.
Flour should be ‘strong’ or ‘bread’ flour. This type of flour has more gluten in it, which is what gives bread its chewy, stretchy texture. Flour that’s sold in the shops as ‘bakers’ flour’ or just standard flour has shorter gluten strands and will produce a crumbly cake-like dough instead.
Yeast can be sold in instant or conventional form. Instant yeast can be added directly to the flour in your bowl. Conventional yeast needs to be ‘proved’, which you do by adding two teaspoons of yeast and one teaspoon of sugar to 1/4cup of warm water. Let it stand for 10 minutes or until the yeast foams to the surface. If it doesn’t foam within 15 or so minutes, it may be too old and should be discarded.
Combine bread flour, dry or proven yeast and lukewarm water in a bowl and bring together into a dough. Your proportions will vary depending on the type of bread you’re making: for white bread start with two teaspoons of yeast, 3 1/3 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups of water. As you get more experienced, you’ll be able to feel when the dough is right and make adjustments during the kneading process. Add a teaspoon of salt for flavour if you like.
Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and springy. It should ‘fight back’ when done, which means that when you stop kneading, it springs back into place. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise until double its size. How long this takes depends on how warm it is, so if you’ve got the wood fire going, put it nearby!
Once risen, punch down the dough, knead again for about five minutes and place either in a loaf tin or on an oven tray. If you’re making rolls or a braid, now is the time to shape the bread. You can also wash the bread with milk for a glossy finish and add sesame or poppy seeds on top as a flourish.
Cover again, leave to double in size, and then bake in a 180 degree oven until it’s golden on top and makes a hollow sound when gently rapped.
Fresh fruit, lemon juice and sugar are all you need to make a delicious range of jams and marmalades. Oh, and a lot of patience, which is why it’s such a great weekend task.
Choose your fruit. Berries are classic candidates for jam making, but you can also try plums, cranberries, quince, grapes or any number of other options. Some fruits are higher in pectin than others: if you choose low-pectin fruit like strawberries, you might want to add some commercial pectin to your mixture to help the gelling process. Alternatively, you can add some high pectin fruit (like apples or quince) to your low-pectin mixture.
Chop, peel and seed your fruit as needed. Add to a pan with white sugar in a 1:1 ratio. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring as you go. For a clear jam, skim off the foam from the top as it foams. You can also stir it in, which will give you a cloudier texture but still taste great. Cook until the mixture starts to gel. This may take a couple of hours, so it’s a good idea to have a podcast or two lined up and ready to go. You can tell when it’s ready by dropping a teaspoons’ worth onto a cool plate: if it sets, it’s cooked.
Pour into sterilised jars and seal tightly. It’s best to store homemade preserves in the fridge if you’re not using a commercial canning process.