Archive for the ‘Savoury snacks’ Category

One of the great things about my new job is the lunches. A wonderfully civilised part of the day. Cooking, sitting round a table and talking. No more silent desk sandwiches or microwaved soup. But freshly baked olive bread, Thai burgers and meat ragus.

The future of working life.

Today I cooked a Spanish omelette. But while furtling about in the fridge, I spied a little left over slice of pissaladière which filled me with longing.

So, with a warm, balmy evening unfolding ahead of me I thought that I’d trump the Spanish lunch by channeling a bit of South France with supper. The sweet onion pissaladière base works beautifully with the salty anchovy and olive topping. It’s best eaten on a warm, summer evening with a glass of chilled white wine.

It’s such an easy recipe – but the only bit worth paying attention to is caramelising the onions. I came across a super article recently that flagged up all of the recipes which tell you to “cook the onions for five minutes until they start to brown”. But to get onions to a perfect, walnut brown, soft consistency, you need to fry them on a gentle heat for at least twenty minutes. Preferably longer. But if, as I suggested, you’ve cracked open a nice bottle of white wine, then I doubt you’re going to be in a big rush to go anywhere.

Ingredients (for 2)

½ sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry, around 200g
1-2 onions, dependent on size
tin of anchovies, 50g
handful of pitted, black olives
120ml vegetable oil

Finely slice the onion(s), and fry in the oil on a gentle heat. As the photographs demonstrate, the onion will undergo a transition from crunchy and white to soft and walnut-brown, which will take at least 20 minutes.

After two minutes

After five minutes

After fifteen minutes

In the meantime, cut the puff pastry into two rectangles. Use a knife to gently score a border around the edge. Put the onion inside the square, and criss-cross the anchovies on top then place a black olive in the centre of each diamond.

Put the pissaladières into a hot oven (200C) for 20 minutes until the puff pastry has risen. Serve with a salad of spinach and sun dried tomatoes.

Nb. When I next make this, I’m going to cut the anchovies in half lengthways, as they were intensely salty!

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London has turned tropical overnight. It was only last week that I was filling my hot water bottle and double-layering socks—and then, all of a sudden, Bethnal Green is hotter than Bermuda.

With no intention of wasting any valuable balcony-basking time in a Tescos queue, I did a crazed Supermarket Sweep-style dash after work lastnight. I chucked some vaguely Mediterranean ingredients into a basket and bolted.

Once the sun dipped behind the city and I’d peeled myself off the balcony chair, I realized that, in my haste, I’d done quite an uninspiring shop. Chicken and mozzarella. A white salad. A bit anemic. A bit…vanilla.

Which got me thinking. It got me thinking about when I was a child, and Mr Whippy vanilla ice cream would be “flavoured” with that watery, chemical strawberry syrup. Now step inside a Snog, or a Frae and you’re not going to leave without piles of fresh fruit and berries piled high over your vanilla or frozen yoghurt. Yum. Revolutionary stuff.

Flavouring vanilla ice cream circa 1990

Flavouring frozen yoghurt 2012

I’ve never been good at salad dressings. I wouldn’t say that anything I ever make really enhances plain, ‘vanilla’ salad leaves, as much as just makes them greasier. So I took inspiration from the new wave of ice cream parlours—and rather than adding colour and flavor to my salad with a drizzle of oil, I piled juicy, and flavoursome tomatoes all on top of it all instead.

It’s so easy to do this, and it makes a plain salad approximately 100% better.

Halve a handful of (good) cherry tomatoes. Roughly tear up half a slice of granary bread. Put the tomatoes and bread in a bowl, and toss in two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, one crushed garlic clove and a bit of chopped rosemary. Mix with your hands to make sure that everything has been nicely coated in the flavoured oil. Pile onto a baking tray, and cook for 5-10 minutes at about 180C … long enough for the tomatoes to turn warm and sticky, but not too long so that the bread turns black.

In the meantime, prepare the rest of your salad. I sliced up one small breast of chicken and fried it with a good slug of oil, and the juice and zest of half a lemon—this adds a bit more colour and flavor than a plain, grey-white baked or boiled chicken breast.

For this particular dish, I used watercress, chicken, torn-off bits of mozzarella (all boring so far), and then I piled the steamy, garlicy, juicy hot tomatoes on top—delicious!

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You asked for my take on
the great joys of life.
The taste of crisp bacon.
The love of my wife.
Often that order could be reversed,
but some days, the taste of crisp bacon stays first.

….so starts a wonderful poem entitled ‘Ruminations on the Smell of Bacon’ which was composed especially for The Bacon Poetry Contest.

This somewhat esoteric poetry competition is, in fact, a mere warm-up act for BaconFest Chicago 2012—billed as “The greatest single culinary and cultural festival ever dedicated to Bacon and Bacon only”, featuring everything baconny, from bacon-inspired crafts to bacon-spirits. A chance for 3,000 bacon aficionados to gather in Downtown Chicago and…well, talk pork.

“Typical Americans” I hear you smirk. Well, dear readers, wipe that sneer off your face, because it’s not just our cousins across the Atlantic who are fans of all things streaky and crispy. Indeed, this week is Bacon Connoisseurs’ Week. A seven-day celebration of quality British pork.

This kicked off with the pig-equivalent of The Oscars with categories ranging from Classic Dry Cure Category to The ‘Rasher-nal Treasure Award’—which I suppose is the equivalent of The Lifetime Achievement Award….only instead of Meryl Streep we’re talking Old Spot Beer Mustard and Staffordshire Honey Middle Bacon. Far better.

‘Rashernal’ puns aside, bacon is widely considered to be a National Treasure. Early this year, 60,000 Britons were polled, and put bacon sarnies top of the charts, followed by a Sunday roast, and a cuppa tea. Dubbed by Gregg Wallace as “one of the western world’s greatest triumphs”, and accused by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall to be the Achilles Heel of vegetarians nationwide, it seems only fair that we join together to celebrate this porky slice.

I have joined in Bacon Connoisseurs’ Week by making some Cowboy Beans. I treated myself by using Black Farmer bacon, which really does have a gloriously smoky flavor which works particularly well with the cigar/bourbon/saloon bar vibe in these Boston-based, cowboy beans. Enjoy.

VOTE for my entry here—I might win a magimix or something!

8 rashers of Dry Cured Hickory Smoked Back bacon
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
4 x 400g tin of cannelloni beans
2 large onions, diced
Knob of grated ginger
3 tbsp of Dijon mustard
Big squirt of tomato paste
2 tbsp of cider vinegar
500ml dry cider
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Slosh of cognac
2 tbsp of dark brown sugar
Pepper and salt to season

1. Cut the bacon into small slices about 2cm long and start frying them on a medium heat. Once the bacon begins to turn a little crispy add the diced onions to the pan.

2. At the point that the onions start to turn translucent pour the bottle of cider over the bacon and onions. Rinse the cannelloni beans and add them to the pan. Grate in some fresh ginger, then add the mustard, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, bay leaves, tomato paste, tinned tomatoes and cognac.

3. Add a tablespoon of dark sugar (it’s easier to add than take away, so wait until the beans have cooked a little longer before adding any more if needed).

4. Cover and cook on a low heat for an hour and a half. Taste and season.

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For those of you who thought that a Bombay Omelette was a little something that appears on the pavement outside Abacus on Friday morning, think again. Because, to honour the wonderfully paint-splattery Indian celebration that is Holi, I’ve come up with a spicy omelette supper. Yum.

This is a perfect mid-night meal, because it takes very little planning – if you’ve got a decent spice rack that contains coriander and cumin. All you need is some eggs and any other bits and bobs to add some colour to the omelette to honour…well…the Festival of Colours.

3 eggs
Splash of milk (about the same amount as the gin you’d pour into a G&T)
1 teaspoon of creme fraiche (not necessary if you don’t have any)
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
Heaped teaspoon of cumin
Heaped teaspoon of coriander
1 chilli
Colourful vegetables: I used cooked beetroot and (defrosted) frozen spinach, but use whatever you have in the fridge – tomatoes, courgette, red onion, peppers etc.

Fry the onions until they start to turn translucent. Add the chopped chilli, coriander, cumin and garlic, and fry for a couple more minutes.

In the meantime, use a fork to stir the eggs and milk in a bowl. Pour the egg mixture over the spicy onions in a hot pan. The egg round the edges will cook quicker than the egg in the middle, so use a wooden spatula to push the edges into the centre – apart from that, just leave the pan on a medium heat, and don’t touch it too much – definitely no stirring otherwise it’ll turn into scrambled eggs.

Once the top of the omelette is starting to set, place your prepared vegetables on top. I used finely sliced, cooked beetroot and (defrosted) frozen spinach (with the moisture squeezed out of it). If you’re more of a traditionalist, pop some cheese on top too – not quite as Indian, but more omelette-y.

Once the omelette has cooked through, use the wooden spatula to fold it in half, and slide onto a plate. It’d be nice with a spicy tomato sauce – but (being a cheapskate) I used the leftover beetroot sprinkled with some sunflower seeds. Enjoy!

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“It’s like they’ve taken all the best parts of all the best restaurants and melded them into one ‘super pub’” Tom concluded as we left The Jugged Hare lastnight.

Now, my boyfriend is a marketer’s dream—and a natural enthusiast about, well pretty much everything. But on this occasion, he wasn’t far off the mark.

As brothers Tom and Ed Martin at ETM Group launch their tenth London venue, it seems that they’ve honed gastro pub design into a fine and very precise art form—taking inspiration from some of London’s best establishments and combining them in this brilliant Barbican bar and restaurant.

The front room is a masculine, wooden, sleek saloon—with a Hendricks gin-esque, Victorian curio twist. Behind the bar is a menagerie of taxidermied animals stacked in glass boxes. Think thick-cut crystal glasses, albino ferrets and a couple of pained-looking stag’s heads mounted on the walls.

As a nod to the craft beer trend that’s taken London by storm, The Jugged Hare has commissioned its own Pale Ale, which has a Sierra Nevada lightness to it—described on their branded beer mats as having ‘complex hints of citrus fruit, spice and bitter-sweet notes’. They recommend it’s drunk with light game dishes such as partridge and rabbit or semi-hard cheese. Not the first thing that sprung to my mind when tasting it, but the recommendations does show a dedication to The Jugged Hare’s intensely gamey theme.

Quite brilliantly, there’s a ‘Wine by the Glass’ machine as at Islington’s Sampler—a preservation system, which holds about ten open bottles of high-end wine. Little nozzles poking through the airtight containers allow diners to pay a relatively small amount to sample a glass of high end wine rather than having to fork out for a bottle.
Fun—and very enterprising. There’s also a ‘walk-in’ wine room just off the restaurant where diners can browse the selection and pick a bottle themselves.

It’s not just the wine that’s taken seriously, but The Jugged Hare has gone big on food. Half way down the staircase is a window through to the kitchen’s ‘cold room’, which showcases the ageing process of meat or hanging game. The (literal) transparency of how they source and store their meat is marvelous. And the impressive ribs and racks imply that the chefs know a thing or two about butchery.

The menu focuses on seasonal British produce. And meat. There’s an eight-spit rotisserie and a charcoal grill. Impressive gadgetry. And all on display in an open kitchen topped with beautiful, warm, copper—no harsh stainless steel in sight. Even the Front of House desk is a gnarly old butcher’s block, and the ‘last drinks’ bell is a big old cowbell.
The attention to detail is mind-blowing.

Lastnight’s launch party was just cheese and nibbles…and a suckling pig burgers. Although I don’t want to speculate on what the main dishes will be like, if the delicate bites and the juicy crackling were anything to go by, I’d put money on the restaurant food being pretty damned good. Suppose I’ll have to go back to find out…

The Jugged Hare
49, Chiswell Street

Menus (CLICK on menus to enlage).

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Just as the fashion industry decided that tribal prints were coming back in many, many seasons ago, so the movers-and-shakers in the food world predicted, mid-2011, that South American cuisine was going to be big in summer 2012.

And sure enough, with the first sniff of spring, half-Peruvian and half-English restaurateur Martin Morales has launched the much-anticipated Soho restaurant Ceviche, bringing pisco, tiger’s milk and lúcuma to central London.

Founder Martin Morales, left.

Ceviche has opened in an exciting, but somewhat terrifying time for restaurants where popularity can quickly become the blight of successful establishments—as Skye Gyngell discovered, dubbing her Michelin star as a ‘curse’ when her low-key, neighbourhood café became jam-packed with punters expecting haute cuisine—something she never set out to do.

While some establishments have buckled under Britain’s recent obsession with food, others have relished it. The likes of Pitt Cue Co, Spuntino and MeatLIQUOR have used their cult status to cultivate queues round the corner, whisking food away and flipping tables with gay abandon. Great for them. Annoying for us.

So I was worried that this new addition to the Soho restaurant scene would replicate the trend, and that my first taste of ceviche in London would be tainted by hungry diners hovering over my table, and impatient waiters rushing me through my meal.

But unlike the explosion of hard, tattooed, streetwise, New York-inspired restaurants, Ceviche is warm-blooded, and neighbourly. Smiling waiters kept us topped us topped up with tap water, picking platters kept things informal—and did I mention that you can book. Joy of joys—a dining experience that doesn’t start with a 30-minute wait in the cold! If it hadn’t been such commonplace before the six-month blip of non-reservation becoming cool, then I’d say it was revolutionary.

The restaurant itself has a black exterior—like Ronnie Scott’s opposite—making it easily missed on the somewhat bleak-by-Soho-standards Firth Street, top and tailed by a Nandos and a Café Nero. But stick your nose to the window, and you’ll be drawn inside by the front bar, where punters can enjoy a cocktail and pick at nibbles or ceviche platters while they chat.

The restaurant at the back channels a grown-up South American vibe—no Carman Miranda-inspired pineapple in sight, but retro prints, elegantly tiles walls and a mixture of high and low tables designed to seat around 40 diners.

Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

The menu starts with a lip-smackingly sharp and deliciously limey array of ceviche dishes with tiger’s milk. But don’t panic—this isn’t sourced from London Zoo (is it even possible to milk a tiger?)—but it’s the name given to the lime, lemon, chilli and onion marinades which ‘cook’ the slivers of raw seabass, octopus and salmon in their acidity.

Move through the menu onto main sharing dishes from grilled skewers of rump steak or chilli and chicken to a ‘classics’ list featuring Peruvian corn cake and mixed seafood rice with pisco.

Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

And then the desserts – oh, the desserts – pumpkin and sweet potato doughnuts with spiced sugar syrup and the extraordinary lúcuma ice cream with crumbled alfajores. The piquant pisco cocktails compliment the picking platters, and there’s also a decent selection of South American wines on offer staying true to the theme.

I left thinking that ceviche could really catch on—it gives you the same self-righteousness of sushi, but the marinades make it tangier and punchier and more exciting without whacking on extra calories. And pisco has always been one of my favourite spirits—(it’s always mystified me why it’s so hard to come across)—even if the pisco sours could have done with a slightly frothier head in my humble opinion.

Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

The only sticking problem was the price. I didn’t leave feeling hungry, but I certainly didn’t leave feeling full as my purse strings limited the number of dishes I could try.
The ceviche platters range from £5.75 to £7.50, but they recommend three or four per person, which means that the bill quickly tots up—especially if you were to include a bottle of wine, which starts at a punchy £19. The other peculiarity is the pricing of vegetable sides—£4.75 is a crazy for a piece of corn or a plate of asparagus.

It’s a shame, because I loved Ceviche. I sat next to a South American couple who were visiting for the second time—quite an accolade seeing as it’s only been open for a week.

All in all it’s a great place, and I left smiling—let’s hope that the pricing is just a teething problem made by a newly-opened restaurant, and if enough reviews bring up the glitch, then they might think about introducing a cheaper bottle of house wine and a couple of better priced dishes.

17 Frith Street,

020 72922040
(visit their website to make a reservation).

Ceviche Drink Menu. CLICK to enlage.

Ceviche Food Menu. CLICK to enlage.

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Tom and his three housemates are running the Bath Half Marathon along with 21 other friends who are all coming together to raise money for the lovely Alfie Fielden (seated, below).

The two-year-old son of my friend Rowe is an extraordinarily handsome, very cuddly and clever little boy who lives in Bath with his twin brother Charlie – with whom he shares a love for John Deere tractors and ‘geegees’ (horses - for those of you who aren’t familiar with the twins’ own West Country dialect.)

Tragically Alfie suffers from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) — a degenerative neuromuscular condition which affects the nerve cells in his spinal cord — meaning he is unlikely to live in to his teens, and will never be able to walk.

Which is why we’re fundraising to buy him an all-terrain wheelchair so he can whizz about instead.

The run takes place this Sunday (11 March), so Tom and his housemates ferreted out their trainers and have been yomping around Brixton in preparation for the big day.

As self-appointed Brixton team dietician, I popped round last week to boost their protein intake with a very meaty meat loaf. Not only is it a super meal for honed athletes like the Brixton boys, but it’s also a very cost-effective way to feed people en masse.

So, this weekend why not substitute your normal Sunday Roast for a cheaper meatloaf instead—and donate the £5 you save to an excellent cause that is very close to mine and my friends’ hearts.

CLICK HERE to donate (and please remember to gift aid).

Marathon Meatloaf Serves 6 non-runners…or 4 hungry athletes

800g minced beef
2 large onions
1 heaped teaspoon of ground cumin
1 heaped teaspoon of coriander
12 smashed up crackers (Jacob’s – or cheapy supermarket own-brand)
3 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
2 eggs
8 slices of bacon
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (Lea and Perrins)

Put a slug of olive oil in a pan, and fry the diced onion on a medium heat. Once they start to turn translucent add the crushed garlic, cumin and coriander – turn down the heat and cook for a couple more minutes then leave in the pan to cool.

Meanwhile, smash up the crackers. Put them in a bag and hit them with a rolling pin, or bang them with a tin in a Tupperware until they’re reduced to lots of little crumbs.

Put the raw minced beef in a mixing bowl, add the cracker crumbs, spicy onions, mustard, Worcestershire sauce. Crack two eggs in to bind it, and use your hands to mix everything together.

Line a loaf tin with the rashers of bacon so they’re just overlapping. Not only does this help the meatloaf hold its shape, but the bacon grease helps everything slip out of the tin when it’s cooked.

Finally squash down the beef mince mixture into the loaf tin.
Whack the temperature up to 220C – cover the tin with foil and cook for 35 minutes. Turn out and slice.

A good tomato sauce is a superb accompaniment to a meatloaf – I think it’s fresher and healthier than a thick gravy. I used the Mima Greek-ish Butter Beans recipe (without the feta), and we also diced some potatoes and roasted them with oil and paprika for a full whack of flavour.

Lining the tin with bacon holds together the meatloaf and makes it easy to turn out

For more information on Alfie and his fundraising team, CLICK HERE.

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Budget eating is big. There are entire blogs devoted to feeding yourself on a shoestring. And today I’m going to join in, because I came up with quite a good wheeze involving the Marks & Spencer ‘two-salads-for-£3 deal’.

It’s quite simple. One for lunch and the other one as the base of your evening meal. I had giant cous cous with roasted pepper and red onion at work, and then used this one to sheesh up my supper:

The rest just involves the sort of food you might have lying around in your kitchen. Tescos penne pasta (48p), mushrooms (78p) creme fraiche (£1.10) and bacon. Boil the pasta, and in the meantime cut up and then fry the bacon. Add the chopped mushrooms to the pan after five minutes - and chuck in a bit of thyme if you happen to have any lying about. (I didn’t - but it would’ve been nice!)

Once everything’s cooked, add a couple tablespoons of creme fraiche to the warm pan (but take it off direct heat to do this). A slosh of chicken stock and a squeeze of lemon would be a good addition - once again, I didn’t manage lastnight - I was too tired/hungry, but it would have enhanced the creme fraiche-based sauce.

Finally add the cooked pasta, and then chuck in the Marks & Spencer salad pot you didn’t eat at lunchtime – in this case, bean salad. Stir and serve. Quick, cheap and tasty.

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The British language is a confusing thing. I feel sorry for anyone who tries to learn it in a logical way. I’ve been trying for 25 years and still can’t make sense of most of it.

It’s hard when a guinea pig is neither from Guinea not is it a pig. Quicksand results in a very slow death and boxing rings are undeniably square.

Hamburgers don’t contain ham, and there isn’t any apple or pine in a pineapple or any egg in an eggplant.

So when I tried to look into the history of muffins, it was no great surprise that an English muffin isn’t exactly a muffin. It’s a sort of yeasty dough flat cake baked on a hot griddle…not the sort of muffin that you’d get to go with your morning coffee.

But then I’m sure that the airy, sweet Starbucks ‘muffins’ are what the fluffy, iced cupcake is to the denser, more robust British fairy cake.

So here is a sort of ‘British muffin’. Not an English muffin flatcake, but not one of the American, sweet, puffy muffins either. A glorious middle ground.

These are fun to bake, and if you do them in a batch of 12 then that’s plenty to take into the office for a healthy lunch too, which will make you feel very smug indeed.

Ingredients (makes 12)
250ml milk
2 eggs
300g self raising flour

100g feta cheese
100g fresh spinach (chopped)
butternut squash
2 chopped chillis
Freshly ground nutmeg
handful of pumpkin seeds

Cut the butternut squash into small squares and roast in oil with the sliced chilli for about 25 minutes.

Mix together the eggs and milk, then sift the self raising flour onto the mixture and fold together.

Add the crumbled feta, squash, sliced spinach and nutmeg into the mixture and gently stir everything together.

Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin tin or muffin cases, sprinkle some pumpkin seeds on top of them, and then pop the tray into the oven at 180C for 25 minutes.
Serve with a big ol’ salad, or just plop a cooled muffin into a sandwich bag for a packed lunch.

…and don’t restrict yourself to the spinach, butternut squash and feta when there are so many great combinations you could try: courgette, parmesan, carrot, cumin, bacon, olives, roasted pepper, celery…

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My first foray into the world of chutney took place purely by accident.

One evening in August I asked Tom if he could pick up one of those market-sized bowls of tomatoes on his way to the flat. An hour later, he still wasn’t back. I was starting to worry. Then, with a big flourish he threw open the flat door, proudly holding aloft a 5kg box of tomatoes.

Not exactly what I had in mind. Particularly as we were packing to go to Scotland, and I hate food going off. So I decided that the obvious thing to do would be to whip up some chutney—how hard could it be…?

I scoured the internet and worked out that the key ingredients were vinegar and sugar—get that ratio right, and pretty much anything else seemed to go. So I decided to start with some spicy tomato chutney to make a dent in the box of tomatoes, which were taking up far more space in the flat than tomatoes really should.

I painstakingly chopped and peeled and diced all the ingredients, put them in my beautiful, red pan on the hob and started stirring.

After half an hour the tomatoes, onions and apples had started to soften…and my arm was beginning to ache. After an hour and a half the chutney was turning a reassuringly brown colour, but it was still very liquid…and repetitive strain was setting in.

Two hours in, the chutney still had some reducing to do and my (normally 40-minute long) attention span had exceeded its limit—so I popped off to wash my hair and thought the chutney could look after itself…

…as I stepped out of the shower, a bitter, smoky smell stung my nostrils. There is no nice way of putting it—no ‘caramelisation’, no ‘gentle carbonization’ —but the bottom three inches of chutney had solidified and welded itself to the base of my pan in a stinky burned mess.

burned pan after attacking it with several scouring pads

I phoned up my mum (regular culinary ‘go-to’ and chutney specialist) and she had the helpful advice of: “I can’t think how I used to do it before I had an aga”.

One of her more frustrating responses. Particularly for an East End cook who couldn’t be much further away from the rural idyll of agas, orchards, and farm shops, where chutney seems to just happen.

On a more helpful note, mum did send me her Old Doverhouse recipe so, with several kilograms of tomatoes left, plums in season and a rugged determination to overcome my chutney demons, I got my second-favourite pan off the shelf and tried again:

Old Doverhouse Chutney
1 1/2lb Plums
1 1/2lb Coking apples
8 oz Green or red tomatoes
1 lb raisins
8 oz onions
1 1/2 dem sugar
4 oz preserved ginger [the sort that isin syrup]
1/4 oz garlic
1/4 oz fresh chillies
1 1/2 tble sp cook salt
1 pint malt vinegar.

Once again, I was wildly attentive for the first hour, watching the fruit soften. For the second hour I was skipping about with excitement as the flat filled up with distinctly chutney-ish smells.

Then, on entering the third hour of cooking, something particularly good came on tv. I nipped out of the kitchen, and missed the crucial ten minutes where the chutney goes from being a bit liquidy to a bit welded to the bottom of the pan.

The Old Doverhouse chutney wasn’t quite bad enough to chuck (the first batch was). But it certainly wasn’t good enough to be proud of…and with two pans written-off, I angrily shelved all chutney-making plans. Indefinitely.

And so chutney remained off-limits until I went to visit Tom in Brixton last weekend. His friend Charlie, who deals in fruit much in the way that others might deal bootleg alcohol or duty free cigarettes, had dropped by and suspiciously left a deposit of about 40 pears in the corner.

What better opportunity to overcome my demons. So, on Sunday, I dozed for most of the morning, zoning in and out of The Archers omnibus and wondering what I could do differently to make sure that third time really was lucky…

half-listening to the goings-on in Ambridge generally helps me focus the mind

…and then I remembered a red cabbage recipe I’d made before which simply requires cooking apples, onion, cinnamon and red cabbage to be put in a pan in an oven for a few hours until it’s all soft and melded together and wonderful.

Working on the same principal I made the simple decision to not make the chutney on a hob (so it didn’t have an intense heat directly heating the base of the pan), but instead put it in an oven for a few hours so that it could lovingly simmer away, with medium heat wafting all around it rather than burning it from below.

Tom’s flatmate bravely lent me his cast iron pan (truly a brave decision considering the burned-chutney incrusted on all of my favourite pans), and so the third trial began.

I put all the ingredients in the pan, and then made some bolognese.
An hour later I stirred it, and then went to watch The History Boys. Around the time that Hector is groping a schoolboy on a motorbike I stirred it again. Then as the credits rolled I took it out of the oven…triumphant!

I highly recommend this recipe, and I highly recommend the method of putting the chutney in, not on the oven, and meddling with it as little as possible.

Pear Chutney
12 pears (peeled, cored and cut into 2cm cubed pieces)
350ml cyder vinegar
300g dark brown, soft sugar
1 big onion (diced)
1 large handful of rasins
2 big, hot peppers (sliced finely)
1 heaped teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves (crushed)

Mix the cyder vinegar and the soft sugar in a small pan on the hob. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for five minutes.

Pour over the other ingredients in a cast iron pan, and put it in an oven between 180-200C without a lid on so that it’s very gently simmering. Leave for 2.5-3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Use boiling water to thoroughly wash two medium-sized kilner jars (we found some for £1 at Poundland) and put them in a warm oven to dry.

Spoon the chutney into the jars and let it cool before putting on the lid.

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