Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Spiced Apricot and Apple Chutney

I thought this chutney would be the last one to go on the blog this year, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a small batch of green tomato chutney is also on the cards. We’ve had masses of gorgeous toms from the garden but there are a few which are stubbornly resisting turning red. I've been outside and threatened them….if they won’t behave themselves it’ll be the chutney pot for ‘em!

This particular one was made to use up a lot of bits and pieces that were looking for a home. I had the last couple of cooking apples from the bagful my sister gave me, a Tupperware box of frozen apricots, some very small red onions from the garden that weren’t much use for anything else and half a bag of dried dates which were leftover from something but I can’t remember what!

Twenty minutes of chopping and an hour or so of simmering gave me four jars of a rich, spicy chutney that I suspect will go well with cheese and crackers. My window cleaner said the house smelled lovely...now, be fair, you can't get a better recommendation than that!

I used odds and sods that I had to hand for this but, if you want to substitute plums for apricots or maybe use sultanas instead of dates, just remember to keep the proportions roughly the same and you’ll be fine. Chutney is very forgiving.

225g red onions, chopped
300g bramley apples, peeled and chopped
350g apricots, stoned and chopped
60g dried dates, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp dry mustard
300g soft brown sugar
300ml red wine vinegar

Put the garlic, salt, spice and mustard into a blender with a couple of tablespoons of the measured vinegar and blitz until slushy.

Put the fruits, onions and sugar into a large wide pan, add the garlic and spice mix followed by the vinegar; give everything a good stir and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer steadily for about an hour until thick and no liquid remains when a channel is drawn across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Pot up into sterilised jars whilst the chutney is still hot and allow to mature for 4-6 weeks before eating.

Makes 4 190g jars.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Butternut Bake

This is my take on a Simon Rimmer recipe I saw online recently for a roast squash bake; it looked OK but I thought it had far too much cheese, not enough onion and nowhere near enough garlic for our taste; oh, and I also thought the recipe was poorly written, but apart from all that it was fine!

This dish is one of those where the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t look much when it’s assembled and you’re just about to put it in the oven, but once it’s cooked all the flavours and textures come together; it smells wonderful while it’s cooking and it tastes even better.

1 small butternut squash
1 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths through the root
5 cloves garlic
6 tsp Sacla Organic pesto
8 sun-dried tomato halves in oil from a jar
125g soft goats’ cheese
1egg
2tbsp crème fraiche
2tbsp grated parmesan-style cheese

Peel and chop the squash into chunks, discarding the seeds; put the chunks into a large baking tray, pour the oil over and mix the whole lot together with your hands. Heat the oven to 200C and put the tray in for 20 mins. Take the tray out of the oven, add the red onion wedges and the unpeeled garlic cloves, then put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes until the squash is tender and the onions are cooked and lightly caramelised.

Put the cooked squash into an ovenproof dish followed by the onion and the garlic, which you need to squeeze out of its papery case. Put teaspoonfuls of the pesto over the squash and onions then lay the tomato halves over the top.

Whisk together the goats’ cheese, egg and crème fraiche and spoon it over the vegetables. Scatter the ‘parmesan’ over the top and pop it in the oven at 200C for 20 mins until golden and bubbling.

I served it with a simple tomato and onion salad (we’re knee-deep in toms at the moment; they’re ripening faster than we can eat them!)

Serves 2

Friday, 16 September 2011

Curried Fruit Chutney

This is another one of the chutneys and preserves that I’ve made over the past couple of weeks. It’s been a bit like running a production line at times, but it’s the same every year at around this time; September is always a hive of activity whilst the autumnal fruits are widely available and cheap.

There’s something very elemental, almost primeval, about having a store of food for the winter months. Yes, I know I don’t have to do this these days; times have changed, we don’t starve any more if we don’t put food away for the winter and I could just go and buy jars of whatever I want from Waitrose, but I can’t buy the sense of satisfaction that goes with it. I love opening the pantry door to find it groaning under the weight of jars.

We’re already enjoying both jams I made in the summer. Mincemeat, plum compote, red onion marmalade and spiced apple butter are all ready to eat, but the spiced apricot and apple chutney, tomato and cranberry relish and this curried fruit chutney will all benefit from some maturing time. Clementine marmalade won’t be made until November when the fruit is reasonably priced in the run-up to Christmas. Phew, I think that’s about it for this year!

This chutney is ridiculously easy and, judging from the taste I had, it’ll make a very good addition to a hot curry on a cold night; I suspect it'll also go down well with a slice or two of cold nut roast or maybe cheese on toast.

250g onions, chopped
750g (prepared weight) fruit - I used apples, plums, rhubarb and apricots
25g garlic
25g fresh root ginger
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp curry powder
300g white sugar
300ml cider vinegar

Put the garlic, ginger, cayenne, salt, cumin, coriander and curry powder into a blender with a couple of tablespoons of the measured vinegar and blitz until slushy.

Prepare the fruit, chop into large dice and place in a large wide pan with the onions. Add the garlic and ginger mixture, the sugar and the vinegar. Bring to the boil, stir well and simmer uncovered over a low heat for about 1½ hours until thick.

Pot into sterilised jars whilst still hot and leave to mature for 6 – 8 weeks before eating.

Makes 6 190g jars.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Not Your Typical Veggie...

I bought a vegetarian magazine last week (it shall remain nameless to protect the innocent!) At first glance it was OK, lots of good recipes and, thankfully, no Parmesan but there were several quite gung-ho articles about sustainability, environmental issues and food miles as well as a few campaigns for this and that. It seemed to be assumed that all vegetarians were interested and in favour of these things; there was also a subliminal undertone of worthiness which really grated on me.   

Now, it could be said that I am a very strange person (it has been said before!) and not your typical veggie, but I make no apologies for saying I am not remotely interested in sustainability, environmental issues or food miles. In fact, if anyone starts on about these subjects, my eyes glaze over, my brain shuts down and I get an overwhelming urge to give the speaker/writer a poke in the eye.

I became a veggie because I don’t want to eat animals, no other reason, simple. My decision had nothing to do with where food is shipped from or the alleged effects of climate change; I didn’t consider farming practices or whether farmers get paid enough for their crops by the big supermarkets and I really don’t care about saving the planet because I think the planet will be just fine despite the puny, ineffectual efforts of the human race to destroy it.

When I buy a food magazine I don’t want to pay good money to read other people’s opinions which rarely tally with mine and are usually ill-thought out and simplistic. Rather than follow the diktat of environmentalists, food writers, brainless politicians and others who make a good living from haranguing the gullible, I prefer to think for myself and make up my own mind.

I did think of writing this to the magazine’s letters page but I suspect they’d think I’m some sort of crank for not going along with their party line. Oh, I do realise, by the way, that in reading this you too are reading someone else’s opinion, but at least you haven’t paid for it nor do I expect you to agree with me.

Rant mode off.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Plum, Cinnamon and Orange Compote

This is the compote I served with that gorgeous cheesecake last weekend, but it more usually gets served with my morning porridge.

Oooh, porridge...now there's a word guaranteed to bring a smile to my face; I absolutely love the stuff! I'm a woman of simple tastes; if I had to choose my last meal on Earth, I wouldn't need to think twice. Porridge! It's my everyday breakfast and I really miss it if I don't have it. It's funny really that something so simple, cheap and easy can be so enjoyable.

Sorry....I went off into a little oaty reverie there....now, where was I? Oh yes, compote - this one is an amazing colour and it's so moreish I keep trying to think of other things I can have it with; if you're not a porridge fan (do such people exist?!) I can recommend a couple of spoonfuls with some soya yoghurt and it livens up breakfast pancakes no end. The husband thinks it could be good on top of a steamed sponge pudding and has put in a request for one as soon as the weather turns a bit more autumnal; mind you, given the weather we've has this week, he could be getting that pud sooner than he thinks!

2kg dessert plums
400g white sugar
grated rind and juice of an orange
2 heaped teaspoons cinnamon
100ml water

Cut the plums in half and remove the stones, then cut each half into two pieces or four if they're very large. Put the plums, orange juice, rind and water into a deep wide pan and bring to the boil. Bubble for 15 minutes then add the sugar and cinnamon, stir until the sugar dissolves and bring back to the boil. Cook for another 15 mins until the juices are thickened and syrupy but not quite jam-like. Ladle into hot sterilised jars whilst the compote is still hot.

Because it has less sugar than jam, it's best stored in the fridge once opened.

Makes 4 medium jars

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New York Deli Cheesecake

New York speciality, maybe, but this particular recipe comes via my niece in Sydney; she emailed it to her Mum (my sister) who then made this delectable confection and brought it with her when she came round for lunch on Sunday. It was absolutely stunning; so stunning, in fact, that I’d cut into it and we’d all had a piece before I realised I hadn’t taken a picture of it in its entirety – duh!

Along with being one of the most delicious desserts ever, it's quite possibly one of the most calorific, too! It’s just the sort of thing I can see being banned by the Government because it’s too unhealthy for us. (**Newsflash** for the Food Police: All food is healthy; it’s just that some foods are better eaten in smaller portions….OK?) I wouldn’t suggest making this on a regular basis, but for a special occasion it’s hard to beat.

Don’t let the size of the piece in the picture fool you – this is a cheesecake of prodigious proportions that would easily serve 12-16 people. If you want it a little more manageable, halve the ingredients and cook it in a 20cm tin.

375g digestive biscuits
175g melted unsalted butter
500g cream cheese at room temp
220g caster sugar
3 eggs, separated, at room temp
1 tbsp cornflour sifted
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
500g sour cream at room temp
60ml fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 150C.

Crush digestives finely and stir in the butter; press the biscuit mixture evenly over the base and sides of a greased 26cm springform tin. Stand tin on a baking tray and refrigerate while preparing the filling.

Beat the cream cheese, 150g of the sugar, egg yolks & cornflour in a large bowl with electric mixer until smooth; add the vanilla paste, sour cream & lemon juice, beat until just combined

Beat the egg whites to soft peak stage; gradually add the remaining sugar, beating well until sugar dissolves. Fold the egg white mixture into the cream cheese mixture with a large balloon whisk.

Spread the filling into the biscuit base and bake the cheesecake for about an hour or until just set. Turn off the oven, and leave the cheesecake in the oven, with the door ajar, until cool – this will help to stop the top cracking. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.


Dust with icing sugar and serve with a spoonful of fruit compote.

(Recipe for Plum, Cinnamon and Orange Compote to follow)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Tomato and Cranberry Relish

...or Tomato and Cranberry Chutney, if you prefer. I’ve decided to call it a ‘relish’ because it’s very slightly smoother than a chutney.

In terms of cooking, I love this time of year; it’s all about squirreling things away for the winter and having lots of nice bits and pieces to eat when the weather’s crabby and you don’t want to go out.


First off the blocks is a new addition to my preserving repertoire; the tomatoes break down during the long cooking to become really sweet and flavoursome whilst the cranberries give it a festive edge. I think it’ll be perfect for adding to a good chunk of bread and a wedge of Brie, a couple of Not Sausage Rolls or maybe a toasted sandwich (or three!)

Talking of tomatoes, I thought you might like to feast your eyes on some of our home-grown beauties. We’ve had such a good crop this year even though the weather hasn’t been great; I can’t believe we grew these stunners from the spindly little plants we put out in the garden in May.

Some people can see beauty in art, but I think I must be a philistine. However, I can see beauty in a basket of tomatoes…Does that make me weird? Yes... probably! To be honest I think there ought to be a law against anything looking this gorgeous!


150g red onions, thinly sliced
20g butter
1kg ripe tomatoes
25g garlic, peeled
25g root ginger, peeled
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
300g white sugar
300ml red wine vinegar
50g dried cranberries

Cover the tomatoes with boiling water, leave for one minute then peel, remove the cores, and chop roughly.

Put the ginger, garlic, cayenne, salt and a couple of tablespoons of the measured vinegar into a blender and blitz until slushy.

Melt the butter in a large wide pan, add the onions and sauté until softened but not coloured; add the tomatoes, garlic mixture, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered over a low heat for about two hours, stirring occasionally, until reduced and nicely thick. Add the cranberries for the last 15 minutes of cooking time.

Ladle into hot sterilised jars and leave for 6 – 8 weeks to mature before eating.

(I had a little taste on a spoon and can already tell this is going to be a winner!)

Makes 4 190g jars.