The Orange

Joel had an idea for this new year, instead of setting resolutions that are inevitably negative and about deprivation we are setting goals for the year instead, for me its to write more on here, to see more paintings out of my 1001 paintings to see before you die and definitely getting started on our garden, I’m sure over the next few weeks there will be more set but I like the idea of striving to achieve something rather than giving something up, which in the dark days of January feels twice as miserable as any other time of year.

I think January is a tough month for people, the depths of darkness with no Christmas to look forward to, the weather tends to get colder, and of course everyone is feeling a little tight on funds after the festive period. Therefore I think we could all do with something bright an fresh to cheer us up, this is a great salad for sharing and you could definitely justify it if unlike me you are trying to stick to those resolutions – plus the dressing uses up some of that cheese board port you still have knocking around (the booze doesn’t count in food, everyone knows that) so why not invite a few people over and brighten up January together.

Oranges always feel like a bit of a faff to me and would normally grab a clementine or tangerine over their full size cousin as the convenience of being able to peel on the go is so easy so I think when you go to the effort with peeling and carefully slicing an orange it feels a bit special. Particularly when they are in season and at their best from closer to the UK at this time of year.

Caramelised Orange and Fig Salad

Adapted from Ottolenghi’s in Plenty More

Serves 4 as a light salad.

  • 75g of caster sugar
  • 4 Medium Oranges – peeled and cut into 1cm slices
  • 8 Fresh Figs – quartered
  • 200g Feta
  • 1 bag Rocket
  • 1 Bag Baby Kale – or other sturdy salad leaf

Port and Lemon Dressing

  • 3 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 3 tbsp Port
  • 1 tsp Fennel Seeds – toasted
  • 4 tbsp Rapeseed or Olive Oil

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Warning: I am crap at making caramel – its gone wrong so many times in the past but the last few times I have done it right so here is the best way I’ve found to do it.

Using a (clean and very dry!) flat based frying pan pour the sugar in ad shake the pan to distribute evenly, put onto a medium heated hob. DO NOTHING, do not touch, do not shake, do not stir, just stand and hold your breath. The sugar should begin to melt and turn a lovely well caramel colour.

If not – if it clumps into a horrible mess unlike me don’t throw a paddy just add a cup of water to the pan and stir to the sugar all dissolves and makes the washing up a lot easier, clean and dry your pan and try again – hey at least sugar is pretty cheap.

Whilst your sugar is melting (or before if you are really anxious to watch it) spread your salad leaves over a serving platter, arrange half of the figs on top and crumble over half the feta.

Once you have your lovely golden caramel add half your orange slices whilst keeping on a medium heat, turn them over after about a minute, by which time they should have a lovely shiny caramel coating, allow another minute on the reverse side, set to one side then repeat with the rest of the oranges.

When all your oranges are caramelised remove the pan from the heat and add your dressing ingredients into the pan along with the caramel, give a quick stir to combine then pour into a jug.

Arrange your Caramelised Slices of orange over your salad platter, scatter your remaining figs and feta over the top.

Serve warm with the warm port and lemon dressing.

Note: If you would like to use this dressing on other things – which I highly recommend as it’s delicious then add a 1½ tbsp of honey to the above ingredients as you wont have the sugar from the caramel to balance!

I hope you have a wonderful new year and you achieve all those goals you set big or small.

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Marmalade

I never saw the appeal of marmalade; I found it a bitter imitation of jam, however a few weeks ago I braved some a family friend had made on toast with a big mug of tea and found it irresistible, the balance of acidity, bitterness and sweetness is just perfect. I think the bitter flavours are something you develop into so I’m classing my graduation from jam to marmalade as a sign that I am a grown up and therefore should be getting married and buying a house.

The crucial ingredient in marmalade is the bitter Seville orange, which are only available for a short window from the end of December to the start of March, not exactly local for me (as the name may suggest) however the bright citrusy flavours on a cold Febuary day are hard to resist and the scent in my kitchen was amazing. I had a few Seville oranges left and I’m finding more uses for them – a squeeze of the juice into an Old fashioned gives it a lovely bitter orange edge (and is turned into a real treat when you use chocolate bitters – Chocolate orange in a glass). I am also enjoying having a slice in my morning hot water rather than lemon.

Like any convert I am getting a little evangelical in my new obsession. I’m hoping to go to The Dalemain marmalade awards, held in mid March in the Lake District to buy some excellent new jars and to get ideas for my next years production. Whilst waiting for the award winners I thought I would try a recipe from my favorite preserving book “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” by Diana Henry.

Diana’s recipe calls for blood oranges however as my greengrocer didn’t have any so I used another variety nicknamed “pink oranges” so the finished marmalade still has a pinkish hue rather than the deeper red of the true recipe. My greengrocer also suggested adding a bit of lime juice for a sharp edge – I can’t honestly say I can taste the lime but the marmalade is fab and maybe without it it would be missing something – we wont know until I make it again without.

Note – you need to start the recipe the day before in order to leave the skins to soak.

Breakfast Marmalade

  • 1 pink or red grapefruit
  • 4 pink oranges
  • 3 Seville oranges
  • 150 ml lemon juice
  • 1 lime Juice
  • 2 kg of granulated sugar

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Day 1

Wash all the fruit, peel the grapefruit and cut the skin into fine shreds. Juice all of the oranges (retaining the skins) Measure how much juice you have and top it up with water to 2.5 ltrs in a large mixing bowl.

Scoop the flesh out of the grapefruit and tie into a muslin bag, add to the bowl of juice. Shred the orange skins as finely as possible and add to the bowl.

Leave everything to soak overnight.

Day 2

Add all the contents of the bowl to a preserving pan (or large saucepan) and cook over a medium heat until the skin is completely soft it took mine about 1 hour 45 mins. Strain through a sieve, retaining the shreds but discarding the grapefruit muslin bag. Measure the liquid and top up with water or reduce to 1.5 ltrs, Return to the pan.

Add the lemon juice, lime juice and sugar to the pan ad gently heat to dissolve. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum. Add the shreds and return to the boil.

Continue to boil until it reaches the setting point, either on a sugar thermometer or use the wrinkle test (see below).

Skim off any scrum then allow to cool for 10 minutes before spooning into dry sterilized jars.

The Wrinkle Test

A sugar thermometer is great but if you don’t have one or like me its boxed up at your parents house with most of your other kitchen equipment whilst you wait to move house. When making preserves the wrinkle test is a great way of checking if your jam or marmalade will set without the need for a thermometer.

Before you start making your jam pop a couple of saucers or small plates in the freezer (I use one of my enamel ones as they cool quicker). When you think your preserve is almost set drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto the cold saucer and leave for 60 seconds, push your finger through the middle of the mixture. If the mixture wrinkles as you push through – great you have reached setting point, take it off the heat. If not then cook for another 5 minutes and then perform the test again.