Monday, October 29, 2012

Tamarind, Date & Apple Chutney

I am a slut for chutney.

That mouth-watering, dense, dark brooding heap of glistening fruit and vegetables, sweetness, spice, and vinegar is a heavenly and addictive mash up - that is a cinch to create and will perform with just about anything you can throw at it.

My batch this year was meant to be a Damson and Apple affair brewed with dark brown muscavado, malt vinegar and lashings of onion seeds - an addictive little darling of a seed that seduces and inspires your taste-buds.

But damsons, where in hell were the damsons? Lost to that rain slashed summer we inherited this year.

Call outs to friends and family revealed a real shortage of Autumnal bounty - which for us chutney sluts is a serious kick in the teeth.

Fortunately, for me, I am great friends with a superior grocer and whilst perusing his wares; picked up a bag of dark Spanish plums, some English cookers and Russet Pears, a couple of French quinces, a bag of juicy fat sultanas and a pile of piquant shallots. At home I pulled out two bags of dark, dark brown sugar, two bottles of English malt vinegar, an entire pot of onion seeds, a large slab of spine-tingling tamarind, a handful of dates, mustard seeds, freshly grated garlic, allspice, cumin seeds, cinnamon, ginger - I pretty much pulled out a host of fine spices and threw them all into my jam pan, alongside the fruit and onions.

The easiest and most sensible way to deal with your fruit and shallots is to de-core the fruit - peel the shallots then give them to your whizzing machine, also known as a food processor, to destroy into an evenly, whizzed fine pile.

Put everything in the pan and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Your entire kitchen and household will smell of vinegar and spice - but trust me its worth it.

After a good few hours simmering gently run your wooden spoon through the middle of the chutney - if it leaves a trail that does not immediatly fill with vinegar - but sits gently for a second or two - your chutney is ready to be decanted into warm sterilised jars.

The simplest way to sterilse jam jars is to wash them well in hot soapy water - then let them dry out slowly in a low oven - leaving them in there until you need to use each one.

Whack the lid on as fast as you can after filling.

The best chutney is well matured, mellow and ready for action. At least three months in a cool dark place is preferable.

However, less than one day later we have demolished an entire jar - this stuff is so good. I have been eating it by the spoonful whilst writing this up, is that wrong?

Or perhaps, it just proves my high accolade as the Slutney Chutney Chick.

Apple, Plum, Pear, Quince & Tamarind Chutney

4lb's of fruit - whizzed up in a processor - skin left on but cores removed.
6-8 Shallots of 3-4 large onions peeled and whizzed up.
1.2 litres of malt vinegar
2lb's of dark brown sugar, muscavado or similar
200g slab of seedless tamarind
1lb of raisins and dates (chop up the dates or whizz-up with shallots)
3/4 cloves of grated fresh garlic
Ground ginger 2 tspn
Ground cinnamon 2 tspn
Ground allspice 2 tspn
A good handful of mustard seeds
A good sprinkling of cumin seeds
An entire pot of onion seeds

Place everything into the jam pan and bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for 2-3 hours, stirring from time-to-time until the chutney is dark, thickened and chutney-ish and the vinegar has all but disappeared.

While warm fill your warmed jars and seal immediatly with a vinegar-proof lid.

Leave to mellow and mature for at least three months, ahem.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Egidio - My East Timor man

I have a new baby...

Indirectly I have found a new source of mummy-flummery in Egidio, a seven-year old boy who lives in rural East Timor.

He is barefoot and desperately poor, he is handsome, he is beautifully made and he is very, very cute. This is a child who receives sponsorship from Plan. And I am proud to say that I am his sponsor.

Egidio has three brothers, three sisters, and lives in a house with a turf roof and an earth floor, he cannot attend a school as the nearest one is too far for him to travel to.

Egidio is the same age as my twins and was born just a few months after them in 2005 - their lives, however, could not be further apart.

I am not allowed to send Egidio books, pencils or paper - although, of course, I desperately want to. I have to content myself with letters, pictures and cards and hope that through them he may have some sort of connection with us, his sponsor family, who live more than 7,500 miles away in Blighty.

Here he is:

His picture sits on our fridge and every morning we wish him Good Morning and I look at him and wonder how it can be that we are fat with food and safety yet he will, everyday, be out in the fields helping his parents to farm cassava, rice and other vegetables so that they can eat. He will help fetch water and firewood and will work his little non-existent socks off so that they can survive and prosper in, what to us, seems such a primitive way.

 Working with Plan and supporting Egidio, gives my children a unique insight into a life that is so hard to understand. Yet we already talk about and try to grasp what is his life in comparison to ours and it is a beautiful gift for my, very fortunate, family to see this and for us to have Egidio in our lives.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

50 Shades of boredom

Is it just me or is Fifty Shades of Grey the most appalling pile of dross yet to make it to such sensational publishing heights?

Having been brainwashed by a girlfriend, I could only assume that this trilogy; which she could not put down - and, btw, she still bangs on about 'Christian' months and months later - would be unputdownable.

Sadly not, I keep reading the first book in the hope that the sex scenes might be worth the time and energy I am putting into reading this snogswhiffle, but no, no, NO! she screamed - in utter frustration - it is unprovocative and salaciously, stark - void of any kind of drama and literary edowment.

The characters are lifeless and one dimensional, the plot is shockingly flimsy and the pace banal... I am left hollow each and every time I pick it up. Although, I feel I should pursue it to the end just for the sake of my girlfriend - my hearts just not in it.

My heroine Caitlin Moran, claimed that despite its petty drivel 50 Shades has allowed, and continues to in droves, women to enjoy female porn in a more acceptable way.  Yet its not decent is it? Its toss and not even literally.

Does she have a point though - do women want more feminine porn? Well, yes, maybe they do. Or maybe they don't do. Do you ladies??

One thing is for sure though, the current copiousness of superfluous pornography in the 21st century is quite literally a tidal wave.

And horrendously accessible for children.

They see women with enormous round knockers, pouting lips and ridiculous tranny heels as an ideal, as normal. They watch the way they are treated physically and think: 'this is ok' - and lets face it: that is not ok.

So does 50 Shades have a function or does it just, as in my mind, add to the heap of sordid drivel already over-whelming us?


Friday, October 12, 2012

Carb it...

Carbohydrates are fantastically dependable tools when you are raising children.

Potatoes, rice, pasta, bread – each, on their own, the perfect instant staple – but, when paired with something else, say…butter – they become altogether more effective, something far more magical…something delicious.

My children spent a year at École Maternelle, French pre-school; this dousing of a singular Gallic acedemic year left them bemused and confused by another language and entirely frustrated by the lengthy, daily, four-course meals they were served for lunch.

Much to their astonishment, their French, three and four-year old, peers took their time during lunch, contentedly munching away on their salad entrée, followed perhaps by a rabbit stew, then a cheese course and then a pudding to boot.

One dish they served regularly was a tiny pasta smothered in buerre, this simple side-dish was a great favourite with the children – served alongside meat or vegetables and always eaten with great gusto.

I continue to serve this pleasingly simple dish today, rice or pasta both thrive when introduced to a knob of butter. If you throw peas in as well – hey presto you have a simple feast, or perhaps the perfect accompaniment to just about anything and it is whipped up in a jiffy.  I like to roast some vegetables or sizzle some sausages to proffer alongside. Some juicy greens, a corn on the cob – nothing complicated.  

Children often crave comforting, effortless food after a hard day at school, and as the Autumnal weather draws in so does our desire for satisfying simplicity and nourishment. 

As seen on Crumbs.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ecargot to go...

The pinchers squeezed down to grab something in the long wet dewy grass, what in hell is she doing, I
wondered. Dressed in fatigues and clutching a wire basket, the woman appeared in the early morning mist almost as a hunter, but of what?

It dawned on me, as I continued my run around the fields, and kept leaping out of the way of the fat, juicy snails that were taking a cooling, slither along the damp paths: a snail hunter – she was a bloody snail hunter!

Didn’t Elvis eat squirrels? So where do you draw the line? Personally my line is drawn well above snails, although as a child my father educated me in winkles, whelks, cockles, mussels; I adored all things crustacean. 

On a Saturday afternoon, when the fishmonger was still an integral part of the high street, my pops and I would wander in and buy a big paper wrapped packet of vinegar soaked cockles and a sack of tiny black winkles glistening in their briny shells. 

We would be salivating as we drove home thinking about pulling out those tiny, curly globules of salty matter with our pins and chewing them greedily, possibly with a thin slice of bread and butter on the side.

Ageing is a strange process isn’t it? Your taste-buds change and develop into new directions. Suddenly sugar-coated, coca-cola bottles aren’t nearly so desirable nor are bright green sour balls the size of snooker balls, in the least bit appealing. 

Although twenty years ago you would have seen me, grasping in my hot, sweaty adolescent hand 20p, intent on getting my moneys worth: buying a three-pack of sour balls, enough to last an entire school day and possibly the bus journey home as well.

Yet twenty years on the idea of drawing out that globlet of winkle with the tip of a pin, or chewing on a garlic infused fat French snail leaves me with a slight shudder. A large glass of very dry, cold white wine is appealing, long salty anchovies, hairy and covered in vinegar sing out to me, but green, mouth-choking sour balls? Escargot??…non, non, non - no thank you.

But hunting snails – it’s no different to hunting deer, rabbits or wood-grouse or fishing for trout is it? I have great admiration for that snail hunter, she was resourcefully scouring the countryside for a free lunch, she didn’t offer to share it with me and nor would I have joined her but those well-tuned French taste-buds had sent her, on that dewy morning, into the world to forage for a great delicacy.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

The collapse of the Cauliflower

Cauliflower has lots its mojo, that certain je ne sais quoi that it had in the 1970's when it reached its pinnacle and cauliflower cheese was, without doubt, a name that was on everyone’s lips, literally.

However, according to recent research, nearly half of households in Blighty didn't buy one single fat cauliflower last year. This humble English vegetable has become, quite frankly, antiquated and definitely unsexy. 

But the fantastic news is: children love cauliflower cheese! This simple dish is easy to whip up on a busy school night and serve to the starving hordes after they arrive home, exhausted and ravenous from school.

Finding simple, healthy and quick recipes for your children everyday is a laborious never-ending mission that cannot always be achieved.  I am not of the school where you should cook bland food for your offspring and a different meal for the adults. Who can be bothered with that everyday?

Knocking out a good, simple feast at the drop of a hat can sometimes seem mind-bendingly impossible but cauliflower cheese manages to achieve this job admirably.

Creamy, filling, fantastic value, healthy, vegetarian and topped with crispy olive oil drenched breadcrumbs, cauliflower cheese ticks all the right boxes. Serve it straight from the oven with a heap of hot, sweet buttered petit-pois or a pile of crunchy, fresh salad leaves adorned with a singing French dressing is, quite frankly, very sexy, very delicious and healthy to boot.

Cauliflower Cheese

One gorgeous fat English cauliflower!
(You can use any other vegetables for this dish – Broccoli, leeks, courgettes etc. Or a mixture of them.)
A pint of organic full-fat Milk
A knob of butter
A tablespoon of organic plain flour
A good grated plateful of mature cheddar
A pinch of English mustard powder or a half a teaspoon of any other mustard I recommend Dijon whole-grain
Salt & Pepper


Turn your oven on to 190.

Put some water in a deep saucepan bring to a simmer – drop in the cauliflower florets and any other vegetables your using. Simmer until the cauliflower is just tender – about ten minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. When its melted whisk in the flour – to make a roux – it will seem lumpy – do not fear. Put the pan back on a low heat and slowly add the milk whisking furiously each time. Eventually you will have a beautiful béchamel sauce.

Keep the béchamel on a low heat and add the cheese, the pinch of mustard and a good grinding of pepper and salt, stirring gently to allow the cheese to melt.

Place your vegetables in a baking dish and smother with the rich sauce.

Rub two slices of day-old wholemeal bread between your hands to make some breadcrumbs – sprinkle the crumbs on top of the cheese sauce. Liberally drizzle olive oil over the breadcrumbs and push the dish into the hot oven.

Leave the dish in the oven for about 30 minutes it will bubble and the crumbs will toast to a rich golden and give the dish a crunchy unctuousness.

Et Voila! Serve with hot buttered petit pois or a crunchy green salad.

As seen on Crumbs.

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