There was an Old Person of Putney; Whose food was roast spiders and chutney; Which he took with his tea, within sight of the sea; That romantic Old Person of Putney.

It’s that time of the year when thoughts turn to sterilising jars, cutting out circles of fabric with pinking shears, and the sickly sweet smell of cooking sugar and vinegar starts to permeate the flat. Well, if you’re me anyway. Yes, it’s time to dig out the kilner jars, and start making chutney.

I’m not in the country for Christmas this year, and I’m very busy with house things, and practising the ukulele for a cabaret I’m in (sorry to my new neighbours, it’s not the best sound to hear coming through your walls on an evening), so I thought I wouldn’t try anything different this year, and instead make my life a bit easier by revisiting an old favourite – Mary Berry’s Christmas Chutney. This also has the benefit of needing to be made in advance, then left in a cool dark place to mature for a month or so before eating. As I most likely won’t be handing out presents until as while after Christmas day, this suited me fine.

“What could go wrong?” I thought to myself. “I know this recipe like the back of my hand.”

In a genius time saving flash of inspiration, I decided to chop all the vegetables the night before, ready for me to chuck them in a pan as soon as I got home from work the next day (there is a lot of chopping involved in this recipe. I recommend using a) a food processor or b) a gas mask, in order to save your eyes when finely chopping 7 onions. I used neither, as I thought it would be a lovely relaxing thing to do in front of the TV. Relaxing, if running away from the chopping board every five minutes screaming “My eyes! My eyes!” is how you like to chill out of an evening.)

Look! at all the lovely chopping I did… Glance! at the recipe below… Gasp! as you slowly realised you forgot to read the section where it instructs you to peel the tomatoes before chopping… Weep! at the acceptance that you will be having tomato soup for dinner every day for the rest of the week… 

Tomatoes. So many tomatoes. And none of them any use.

Tomatoes. So many tomatoes. And none of them any use.

If ever there was a lesson to be learned about reading the recipe in full before embarking on a project, this would be it.

The recipe makes about 2.5kg worth of chutney. This is a lot of chutney. A lot of chutney. It will fill a lot of those fancy schmancy “presentation jars” you fell in love with at Lakeland. So you need to get sterilising those jars.

Jars. Lots of jars.

Jars. Lots of jars.

I don’t have a dishwasher (although I’m hoping this will change soon – hello, January sales), so my preferred method is to wash the jars in hot soapy water, before placing them upside down on a couple of sheets of newspaper on the oven shelves and putting them in a pre-heated oven (275°F/130°C/Gas 1) for about 15-20 mins.

To stop the glass jars shattering, remember that hot food goes in hot jars, cold food goes in cold jars.

The recipe is below, from the BBC Good Food website.

Ingredients

900g tomatoes

3 red peppers, 1 large aubergine and 1 green pepper (total weight of about 900g/2lb)

6/7 small/medium sized onions (about 700g), peeled and fairly finely chopped, by hand or in a food processor

4 fat cloves garlic, crushed

350g granulated sugar

300ml/½ pint white wine vinegar or distilled malt vinegar

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed

1 tbsp paprika

2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Peel the tomatoes. I repeat. PEEL THE TOMATOES. To do this, prick them with a sharp knife, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few seconds then drain and cover with cold water. The skins will now come away easily. “Easily”, but not quickly. Do this bit in front of the telly.

2. Chop the tomatoes and aubergine and seed and chop the peppers. Put in a large heavy-based pan with the chopped onions and crushed garlic and bring to the boil.

3. Cover with a lid, lower the heat and gently simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally, until tender.

4. Tip the sugar, vinegar, salt, coriander, paprika and cayenne into the pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil for 30 minutes or so, until the mixture achieves a chunky chutney consistency and the surplus watery liquid has evaporated. Take care towards the end of the cooking time to continue stirring so that the chutney doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. I’ve often found this bit has previously taken me almost an hour to do, so make sure you’ve left enough time in your evening. I was sterilising jars and spooning chutney at way past 10pm. Not ideal.

5. Ladle the chutney into sterilised or dishwasher-clean jars, sealing them whilst still hot. Leave to mature for at least a month in a cool dark place.

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The finished product! Not sure how to decorate these yet – need to raid the fabric scraps.

 Today’s quote is from Edward Lear.

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Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile

Don’t you just love Autumn? The kind of Autumn with crisp blue skies, crunchy leaves and conkers. The kind of Autumn where it’s acceptable to have soup for every meal, where you walk through the park arm-in-arm with your friends and lovers, wrapped in scarves. The kind of Autumn that is actually called Fall and only exists in Central Park in films.

We’ve been waiting a while for Autumn to start, here in London, as the sun made a belated appearance. But now the clocks have turned back, and I barely see daylight, it’s hard to deny that the season has begun. But that’s fine by me, as it is the perfect time of year to break out the hearty carb-loaded meals, and rummage through my cupboards in search of the chestnuts I knew I had bought one time, and then forgotten about on Christmas Day. And Time Out magazine luckily gave me the perfect recipe, combining the two ingredients.

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Can’t work out if this is a blurry photo, or just the steam rising off the pan…

It’s a really easy recipe, and perfect for a cosy evening in.

Ingredients:

300g basmati and wild rice

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into largeish chunks

4 garlic cloves, crushed

200g pre-cooked chestnuts, halved

250g spinach

25g unsalted butter

100g cream cheese

1. Cook the rice until tender, drain fully, and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the butternut squash and fry until tender (about 5/6 mins)

3. Add the garlic and chestnuts and cook for a minute.

4. Add the spinach, cook for another 5 mins.

5. Add the butter and rice to the pan, stir well and leave to cook for about 10 mins. Don’t stir (this way you get a nice crust at the bottom of the pan)

6. Finally, break up the mixture with a fork, stir through the cream cheese, season, and serve in front of a roaring fire (or the tv…)

Today’s quote is from William Cullen Bryant

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.

pasta

…And here it is. Drunken Penne. Pasta cooked in red wine. Served up with garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and pancetta (ahem… gammon, because there was no pancetta in the supermarket I was in at the time. I bought gammon instead thinking, “What’s the worst that could happen? One of these days my lazy substitutions will come back to bite me on the ass.” And reader, it did – one day I will tell you about my failed attempt at a fig tart, but it’s currently too raw).

I won’t recreate the recipe here, as I took it wholesale from the Domestic Sluttery website. To cook the pasta in wine, you just need to boil it in salted water for around 3-4 minutes first, then add it to a pan of red wine which has been heated to the boil, and cook for a further 6-7 minutes (or until the pasta is cooked and has turned burgundy).

I suspect it would taste even better if I used the proper ingredients, but it was delicious as it was. And now I’m wondering what else I can boil in wine. Any ideas?

Today’s quote is from Benjamin Franklin

We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.

Despite the last gasp of Summer we are enjoying at the moment, when I came across this delicious Lamb pie recipe in my most recent copy of WI Life magazine ( amongst the adverts for “relaxation trousers” and watercolour painting) I couldn’t resist trying it out, despite its unseasonal nature.

Added bonus – finally using my birthday present (my birthday was in February), a shiny shiny red and beautiful iron casserole dish. Look – bask in it’s beautiful shiny redness!

  dish

The recipe itself is fairly simple, although it is best done on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when you have 5 hours available to slow roast your meat. The recipe in the magazine called for 4 lamb shanks, but I used a shoulder joint instead, as it was what they had in the supermarket I was in at the time… It also asks for puy lentils, but I could only find green lentils. How different can a lentil be, anyway? I also made some changes to the mash on the top, they didn’t mention adding any butter or milk to make it creamy, and as nobody likes dry mash (apart from an old Uni friend who used to eat Smash straight from the packet, but that’s probably best glossed over), I added a generous dollop of butter, and then cheese on top. Because everybody loves cheese.

pie 

It went down a treat – as you can tell by the picture, we couldn’t wait for my phone to recharge to take a photo before digging in. And by the time we ate (post cinema trip to The Way Way Back – go see it!), it was quite late, so I apologise for the poor quality photo.

Ingredients

Lamb shoulder joint (about 1kg worth) (I imagine any cut would work – the original recipe was 4 lamb shanks)

Generous slug of olive oil

Half a bottle of red wine

6 garlic cloves (no need to peel or chop)

Handful of dried mixed herbs

50ml (2 fl oz) stock

Dash of hot chilli sauce

3 bay leaves

3 tsp plain flour

100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) water

2 x 400g cans of lentils, drained

8 shallots, finely chopped

1.25kg (2 1/2 lb) potatoes, peeled and chopped

Large knob of butter

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Salt & pepper

Grated cheese (for topping)

1. Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas Mark 1

2. Put the lamb and all the ingredients up to and including the bay leaves in a lidded casserole dish and cook in the preheated oven for 4-5 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

3. Get the sunday papers, and pour yourself a glass of wine. Why not, it’s already opened!

4. Once cooked, set aside the meat to cool, then strain the sauce through a sieve into a small saucepan.

5. When the meat is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones and discard any fat.

6. Boil the potatoes until tender, then drain and mash with the butter, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

7. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

8. Bring the strained lamb sauce to a hard boil for about 2 mines, then reduce to a gentle simmer.

9. Mix the flour and water together to a paste, and then whisk into the sauce – trying to get rid of any lumps.

10. Bring back to the boil, and season to taste.

11. Place the lentils in the bottom of the casserole dish, followed by the shallots, then the meat. Add enough sauce to cover the meat, then top with the mashed potato, spreading to the edge of the dish to prevent sauce from leaking. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, then cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

12. Set aside for 10 minutes before serving (if you can wait that long).

The recipe made about 5-6 large portions, and we served it up with a big pile of peas, as all good pies should be. We’ve still got about a half a bottle of red to use up (I know, I know, there’s no such thing as half a bottle of booze), and so I’m thinking of making this Drunken Spaghetti, from the Domestic Sluttery website. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Today’s quote from David Mamet’s Boston Marriage.