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.

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Banana bread for beginners

I enjoy baking too much to do it casually. I like to do it when I have  the mental and physical space to get it just right. I moved to the flat where I live in March this year and have finally put up enough shelves, painted enough walls and hung enough pictures to feel like I can spend a quiet afternoon baking (and start a blog).

Banana bread is one of the first things I ever learned to bake on my own (cutting out pastry your mother made and spooning jam into the rounds is fun but does not count as baking). So it seemed appropriate to go back to the beginning for this first post and the first baking session in my new place.

The recipe I based today’s banana bread on comes from a German book called Back Vergnugen Wie Noch Nie – Das grosse GU Bild-Backbuch in Farb (1987). The title means something like ‘Enjoy Baking As Never Before – the big GU colour-picture-baking- book’. While the banana bread recipe is fairly simple the book also contains some seriously advanced material: proper prezels, zwetschgendatschi (damsons baked in yeast dough), Sachertorte, brioches, croissants and about forty different styles of bread. The book belongs to my mother, and she has promised it to my sister, but in the meantime nobody seems to have noticed it’s on my shelves.

There’s actually nothing all that special about this banana bread. It’s more soothing than exciting. But sometimes that’s what you need.

Ingredients for one loaf
(I used a tin roughly 25cm x 15cm x 8cm)

150g spreadable butter (plus a tiny bit to grease the tin)*
160g soft dark brown sugar
3 eggs
4 very ripe small bananas
seeds of 1 vanilla pod
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
350g wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder
100g chopped walnuts
125ml milk

Put the oven shelf on the second level up from the bottom and pre-heat to 170C. Grease the baking tin.

In a big mixing bowl stir together the ‘butter’ and sugar as vigorously as you can. The sugar needs to dissolve into the fat completely. You’ll know you’ve stirred enough when the muscle on the top of your forearm aches and the mixture suddenly turns several shades paler.

Next stir in the eggs one at a time. Only add a new egg when the mixture is perfectly smooth.

Peel the bananas and put them in a separate bowl with the salt, vanilla and cinnamon. Mash them up with a fork. It’s OK to leave a few lumps as they give the banana bread a more varied and pleasing texture.

Stir the banana mash into the butter-sugar-egg mixture (there should be a name for this stuff – if there is let me know).

Now sieve the flour and baking powder into the bowl and throw in the nuts. Add the milk and stir one last time.

Spoon the mixture into your tin. Smooth off the top – not so much to make it flat as to make sure the mixture gets into all the corners of the tin.

Bake for 45 minutes before taking the loaf out and poking a skewer in to see if it’s done. If the skewer comes out clean and the loaf has come away from the edges of the tin turn it out onto a rack to cool. If it’s still  doughy put the loaf back in for ten minutes before trying again. The baking time for this loaf is likely to be variable depending on the size of your eggs and the juiciness of your bananas, but it should definitely be done after an hour and ten.

Good with coffee, tea, milk and also sherry.

* STRONG DISCLAIMER: Normally I would use good, honest, straightforward ordinary butter. I love butter and think margarine is the devil’s own ear wax. But the GU book is always right and they called for very soft margarine so I thought I’d better meet them half-way).