Chilli jam

Chilli Jam

This goes with loads of things – cheese, curry, smeared on a bit of fish before grilling – whatever you fancy. I have a tendency to add more chilli to this each time I make it, and obviously you could adjust the amount and variety of chilli and whether you leave the seeds in depending on personal preference or who you’re giving it away to.

You can double the ingredients for this if you like, but I don’t recommend it as it’s much more manageable with these quantities – even if it does only make two and a bit jars.

I have plans to develop a less faffy, more ‘everyday’ recipe for this, perhaps using whole roasted tomatoes in order to reduce waste and save time. If and when I do, I’ll post it here for comparison and bump the recipe given here up to ‘deluxe’ status…

Ingredients

  • 6 Average sized tomatoes, as red as you can get them
  • 1 normal red pepper and 1 red Romero pepper (or 2 normal red peppers)
  • 3 fresh red chillies, halved and de-seeded
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • A piece of fresh ginger, about a large ‘thumb’s worth, peeled and finely grated
  • 50g balsamic vinegar
  • 100g white granulated or caster sugar
  • 100g jam sugar (the one with added pectin)

Halve and de-seed/ de-stalk the red peppers. Place in a roasting tray as they are, with no oil, and roast at about gas mark 6 for 30-45 minutes, or until they look nicely roasted. Don’t worry if the edges become slightly charred- this adds to the flavour.

While the peppers are roasting, you can peel your tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to cut a small cross in the skin of each tomato, and place them in a large bowl of boiling water. After a few minutes, you should find the skin peels away easily from them (if doubling the ingredients, it’s best to do this in two batches and replenish the water in between). This is also easier if you start with the tomatoes at room temperature, rather than straight from the fridge.

Once you’ve peeled your tomatoes, cut them in half and scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp, leaving the firm tomato flesh. A metal ice cream scoop is ideal for doing this.

Once your peppers are roasted, add the peppers, tomatoes, chillies, garlic, ginger and balsamic vinegar to a food processor and whizz everything until it’s a consistent texture, with no large chunks.

Add the mixture to a large pan and add the sugar. Bring to the boil and then simmer, stirring regularly until the overall texture becomes nice and syrupy. If you scrape the spoon over the bottom of the pan and can see a clear line in the mixture, it’s pretty much done.

Chilli jam

Decant into hot, sterilised jars and seal.

Makes about 2 jars of jam.

Gnocchin’ on heaven’s door (gnocchi with spinach, basil, feta and roasted tomatoes)

When I first started making gnocchi a few years ago, they always seemed to come out really dense and heavy. So, I did a spot of internet research and have tweaked my method as I’ve gone along.

The recipe here is the resulting recipe I use for plain potato gnocchi, although you could add some herbs or any other flavourings that take your fancy.

Personally, I don’t think making your own gnocchi is that much of a faff. Admittedly, it would be a lot quicker to get them out of a packet, but a bit of forward planning minimises the hassle. For instance, what I tend to do is bake and rice my potatoes the night before and leave them in the fridge, ready to make into dough the next evening.

The reason I bake my potatoes, rather than boil them, is that it keeps them as dry as possible (which is what you want). It’s also easier to leave a few spuds baking in the oven than to keep an eye on a boiling pan of them. Also, I rice my potatoes rather than mash them as this allows more moisture to evaporate from the potatoes and means they don’t get overworked. If you’re reading this and thinking “bloody hell, this woman is really overthinking her potato preparation methods”, then you are probably right, and you may just want to use some gnocchi from a packet for this recipe…

Ingredients

For the gnocchi (this makes about sixty gnocchi- enough to feed three people, or two with a couple of lunch portions left over):

  • Three smallish to medium baking potatoes
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • ‘00’ grade pasta flour

For the sauce:

  • About 200g of cherry or baby plum tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • About 200g Spinach (I use frozen, ready chopped spinach because it’s cheap and I usually have it in the freezer but fresh would be good)
  • A handful or two of fresh basil
  • Three garlic cloves, crushed
  • 100g feta

To make the gnocchi:

Prick your potatoes all over with a fork and put them on the middle shelf of the oven at gas mark 6 (200⁰C) for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until a knife slides into the centre of them easily. Cut them in half when you take them out of the oven, and when they’re just about cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides and put them through a potato ricer into a bowl. There’s no need to waste the skins- keep them in the fridge to be picked at with a squidge of barbeque sauce from a bottle when you’re peckish. (Nigella-esque late night snacking in a black satin dressing gown is optional, but encouraged.)

As I tend to bake my potatoes ahead of making gnocchi, I cover the riced potato in cling film and leave it in the fridge. If you’re doing this, I recommend getting the potato out shortly before making your dough to warm up slightly, unless you don’t mind getting cold hands.

If you’re making your gnocchi the same day, leave the potato to cool down.

Add the two beaten eggs to the riced potato, folding the eggs into the mixture with a spatula.

Now, start to add your flour, gently squelching the ingredients together with clean hands. I honestly don’t know how much flour you’ll need to add- I’ve never measured it. All you need to know is that you need to add just enough until you have a good workable dough consistency. It’s helpful here to have someone tipping the flour in for you, as the dough will make your hands very messy. I don’t usually have a spare pair of hands for this bit and my bag of flour therefore ends up covered in doughy, potato-y paw prints.

Once you’ve got your dough, divide it into four portions and roll each portion out into a long sausage shape. When you’ve got a sausage which is about an inch thick and about 12 inches long, cut it into small pieces. Lay your gnocchi out on a plate or baking sheet which has been brushed with a thin layer of oil, then lightly press a fork onto the top of each one, flattening them slightly.

To make the rest:

Cut your tomatoes in half and put them in a baking dish or tin. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and season with sea salt and black pepper. I often sprinkle on some fennel seeds too, but then again I sprinkle fennel seeds on bloody everything. Use your hands to coat the tomatoes in oil and lay them out cut side up in the dish. Roast in the oven at gas mark 5 (190⁰C) for about 45 minutes. If you’re baking your potatoes at the same time, you could just put everything in at gas mark 5 and do the potatoes for longer, adding the tomatoes later on. I’ll leave you to work out the logistics.

Put a big pan of water on to boil.

Whizz your basil in a food processor or finely chop it. If you’re using fresh spinach, then whizz/ chop that too.

In another pan, heat a small glug of olive oil and add the garlic. Fry for a few minutes before adding the spinach and basil and stirring everything together. Allow to warm through thoroughly before crumbling in the feta. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Once your other pan of water has come to the boil and while your spinach is cooking, add the gnocchi to the pan in batches to cook (I usually do about fifteen at a time). When all the gnocchi in the pan have floated to the top of the water, remove them with a slotted spoon.

Divide the gnocchi between bowls, top with the spinach sauce and roasted tomatoes and serve.

Bank Holiday blowout food

This weekend was the last Bank Holiday weekend before Christmas, and I managed to wangle a shift off from work to enable me to enjoy the whole three days off. In classic British Bank Holiday fashion, the weather forecast was for rain all weekend. “There goes my nice long bike ride in the sun,” I thought. However, yesterday was lovely and sunny and while we didn’t cycle the longer route I’d originally planned, we did have a nice cycle around the park in the sunshine (sitting down to enjoy a cheeky Calippo under a tree along the way). As I’d thought the weather was going to be rubbish all weekend, I was feeling a bit indulgent and planned a menu of tasty treats for our three days off together.

We started off on Saturday with a nice lay in (interrupted by needing to answer the door, bleary eyed and Russell Brand-haired, to the postman to take delivery of some packages from Amazon). We then enjoyed a pot of coffee and some pain au chocolat while still in our dressing gowns, watching re-runs of Time Team on the telly. Lovely. I won’t bore you with this level of detail about the rest of the weekend but it’s worth mentioning how much I appreciate not having to set an alarm and having a home filled with the smell of fresh coffee first thing in the morning.

I decided to make cream teas on Saturday, the original plan being to cycle to the park and enjoy them in the sun. As it was pissing down with rain, we enjoyed them in the comfort of our own home instead. The scone recipe I used was this one (don’t do what I did and absent-mindedly use plain flour instead of self-raising- I had to chuck out the first batch and start again when I realised they weren’t rising in the oven). We had our usual debate about whether to put the jam on first or the clotted cream- I always put my cream on first with the strawberry jam on top because I think it’s more aesthetically pleasing (which is the Devon way of doing it). However, Owen spent a large portion of his childhood and teens in Cornwall, and he and his mum will argue until they’re blue in the face that the Cornish way (jam first, cream on top) is the only correct way to serve a cream tea.

Cream teas (the Devon way). I got a bit carried away and decided to put them on my extra chintzy bone china plates.

Yesterday’s breakfast was pancakes with bacon and maple syrup- one of my favourite weekend breakfasts when I can be bothered to make it. I use the following ingredients for the two of us, adjusted from this Jamie Oliver recipe.

  • 2 eggs
  • 80g plain flour
  • 95ml milk
  • Half a teaspoon of baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

Breakfast pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

Owen did a roast for dinner last night. I’m not very good at roasts, but I do always contribute by making the stuffing balls (chopped onion, grated apple, sage and breadcrumbs bound with an egg) and Yorkshire puds. A roast is one of those meals, like a full English breakfast, which always tastes that much better when someone else cooks it for you. Owen happens to be very good at making a roast dinner (his roast potatoes in particular are excellent), which works out well for me…

Owen’s yummy roast potatoes.

I made tomato soup for lunch today using this Felicity Cloake recipe (which is my standard ‘go to’ tomato soup recipe- the balsamic vinegar lifts the flavours perfectly). I quite often make soup for lunch on a weekend, especially if the weather’s a bit miserable- I find it quite comforting with a nice bit of crusty bread for dippage.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of these before they went in the oven- I just thought they looked pretty…

Tomato soup

One of the aforementioned Amazon deliveries was Lorraine Pascale’s latest book, which provided the inspiration for tonight’s dinner- prawn linguine with chorizo and cabernet tomato sauce (the recipe wasn’t on her usual BBC page so the link is to the Mail Online- sorry about that). The only adjustments I made were to use one tin of tomatoes instead of two and enough linguine for two people instead of four. There are loads of recipes in this book that I want to try, so you’ll no doubt be hearing more about them soon…

Lorraine Pascale’s prawn linguine with chorizo and cabernet tomato sauce

So, we’re back to work tomorrow. After all this culinary naughtiness (I’ve not even mentioned the Tesco’s jumbo chocolate croissants and copious amounts of beer and wine we washed everything down with until now), I think I’ll need to get on the exercise bike and cook a few healthy meals this week to restore the balance…