Checkout Workers, I Salute You (with cranberry sauce)

This post is dedicated to everybody who worked on supermarket tills over Christmas, and maintained their good humour while all around them lost their cool at the crowded aisles, the effort and the expense. In particular this post is dedicated to the woman with bronze-coloured cornrows and a Caribbean accent the absolute opposite of winter, who was working at the local Tesco when I did my Christmas shop.

She put my fresh cranberries through the scanner and asked me what I do with them. Thinking they looked delicious she had bought a punnet for lunch and tried eating them raw. Of course they were hard, sour and an all round disappointment. It’s a natural mistake to make. They look gorgeous: redder than strawberries, shiny as cherries, bite-size as blueberries. The fruit that combined all those qualities would be a wonderful thing.

raw cranberries

Sweet to behold, sour on the tongue.

I explained I had bought the cranberries to make a sauce with sugar and orange peel and… but there was a big queue of shoppers inching their trolleys towards me in a menacing fashion and I couldn’t go into detail. So here’s the full version. Too late for Christmas Day, but not too late to have with turkey left-overs, or cheese on toast, or ham, or cold venison, or even porridge – I had it with porridge this morning along with a dollop of cream and some golden syrup. Greedy, but it’s only the third day of Christmas…

IMPORTANT: this is a sour, tangy sauce and nowhere near as sweet as the sauce you get in jars. If you want something that sweet you will need to double or even triple the sugar. Which might be spoiling good cranberries.

300g fresh cranberries
2 small eating apples
1 large orange
75g golden caster sugar*
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice

cranberry sauce ingredients

Raw sauce. Those chunks of apple are bigger than they ought to be.

Wash the fruit. Peel and core the apples and chop them into cranberry-sized pieces. Carefully peel the orange with a vegetable parer so you end up with one long, thin strip.

Squeeze the orange juice into a pan, and add the orange peel, apple pieces and cranberries. Stir in the sugar and spice.

Heat gently until the mixture is just simmering and cover. Heat, stirring occasionally. The cranberries will pop at uneven intervals like slow-motion popcorn. The sauce is ready when the apples are soft and all the cranberries have popped.

Fish out the orange peel and transfer the sauce to a serving dish. Let it cool, then keep it in the fridge. If you keep it covered it should be good for the rest of the Christmas season.

cranberry sauce.

Sauce. Good with all manner of things cooked and raw. Spoon it on.


Vegan surprise

The surprise was more exciting for me than it is likely to be for you, so I’ll spill it straight away: to my absolute astonishment and entirely by accident I have just cooked, eaten and enjoyed an entirely vegan dinner. No butter, no bacon, not even a bit of egg.* What a revelation.

The combination of ingredients was determined by:

1) the fact I had a strange craving for pak choi at lunchtime today and bought two in the covered market

2) things I already had in the cupboard

Serves 1 greedy person

100g basmati rice
half a vegetable stock cube [I was cooking for myself, it was late and I was hungry. Under these circumstances shortcuts are allowed.]

sunflower oil [I would have used olive if I hadn’t run out.]
about 80g shelled unsalted pistachios
1 teaspoon dried crushed chili [or less if you are of a delicate disposition]
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 small pak choi
1 clove of garlic
mirin [don’t really understand what this is but it makes everything taste better]

Put the rice on to cook with the stock cube crumbled in. I do it lid on, with twice as much water by volume as rice. All the water gets absorbed by the rice so when it’s done you don’t have to faff around with draining it.

If you have a pestle and mortar give the nuts a gentle bashing to break them up into halves and quarters. If not bundle them up in a tea towel and batter them with a rolling pin.

Meanwhile put 1-2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan and heat it up to medium-hot.

Wash and chop the pak choi. Cut away and reserve the greens. Cut the white parts into two or three pieces. Crush the garlic.

Put the nuts, chili and mustard seeds into the pan. Stir them round till they’re hot and coated with oil but not burning.

Add the whites of the pak choi. Cook for about three minutes, until the whites are cooked.

Stir in the greens and garlic and cook for another two minutes or so.

When the pak choi’s done stir in the cooked rice. Add a few splashes of magic mirin and eat. Probably on the sofa in front of the television.

pak choi rice garlic mustard seed crushed chile garlic pistachios

It’s not a small bowl, it’s a big fork