Friday, 29 October 2010

You say Tom-ay-ta...

OK, my first ever attempt at chutney was...  Actually, at this precise point, I’m not exactly sure what it was.  It’s still too hot to taste.  Anyway, it looks brown and lumpy (which I think it's supposed to?!) although I’m not sure if it’s a bit too runny (is that a technical term)? 

We planted some tomato plants in gro-bags this summer, which didn’t grow to their full potential but did taste lovely.  However, as it’s nearly November and it’s FREEZING I think it unlikely that they’re going to get much redder so I decided to turn the remnants into Autumn Mixed Tomato Chutney (see recipe below).  I’ll be tasting my efforts in the next few days so will let you know how it is.   And if it is good, it’s going to be added to this year’s Christmas hampers (I say that as though there have been previous years hampers). 

I have of course, made this and still wonder, ‘does anyone like chutney?’  I have a bit of a love hate relationship with it and am never entirely sure what to have eat with it.  I mean, I know cheese but not sure what else?  All of that begs the question, why am I giving it to people for Christmas?  Cruelty?  Nasty streak?  No, my Dad is partial to a bit of chutney, as is my Mum and my in-laws are generally fond of all things home-made (although this attempt could be the exception to prove the rule...).  So here's the recipe.

Autumn Tomato Chutney (makes 1.5 litres or about 6 standard jam jars)
1kg tomatoes, peeled & chopped (I used a combination of ripe and very green!)
750g cooking apples, peeled & chopped
375g light muscovado sugar
250g onions, finely chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded & chopped
2 tsp salt
Half tsp ground ginger
350ml cider vinegar

Put all the ingredients (takes a while to chop them all up!) into a large pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.  Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.  Boil the mixture, uncovered, for about 45 – 50 minutes until the fruit is tender and thickened.  Cool, then transfer into sterilised jars and seal.

Is it just me or is chutney a bit, well, suspect?  Let me know if you try the recipe and if you like chutney.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

We're Witches of Hallowe'en Whoo Hooo!

Cheeky Boy has a school fancy dress party on 2nd November (phew, gives me a bit longer to plan!) and he’s decided to go as Harry Potter.  Excellent idea.  Not least because he wears specs not dissimilar to the aforementioned boy wizard so I don’t need to worry about making those. 

Speaking of Harry Potter, he is fantastic!  OK, I know he’s fictional but the boy wizard has done wonders for spec wearing children the world over.  I remember when I was at school no-one wanted to wear glasses and those who did got picked on relentlessly (or maybe that was just my school?!).

Anyway, fast forward twenty years (OK, OK, thirty) and they’re practically begging to wear glasses!  I had no idea that Cheeky had any problems with his eyesight.  I just happened to ask what age the optician recommended starting checks for the kids when I was having my own eyes tested only to discover that his nibs met the starting age (which is 3 and a half to 4, in case you were wondering).  So one eye test later we discovered that he has an astigmatism in both eyes which means (I think) that he’s both long and short sighted.  Or in other words, where eyes are normally round like footballs, his are shaped like rugby balls.  And his right eye was seeing so little that his brain was ignoring it – which isn’t good.  Spectacles were quickly prescribed. 

I had a certain feeling of dread, worrying about how he would react to the news that he would have to wear glasses.  ‘Brilliant!’ he exclaimed, ‘can I have Harry Potter specs?’ 

So, he’s been wearing them ever since.  Not the same specs you understand, that was three years ago, he’s been through at least 9 pairs of specs since then! 

Anyway, back to the fancy dress checklist: 
Specs – check. 
Harry Potter wand – check (I’m going to cheat with that one as he has a wand). 
Broomstick – check.

Apparently, I have to source (i.e. make) a cape – even I should manage that - and a ‘proper’ Hogwarts badge and scarf.  So, it’s off to the fabric shop for me today(where the scary intimidating lady will no doubt scowl at me as it becomes instantly apparent that I’ve not the slightest clue what I’m talking about!!).  I will post a wee photo here to show you the results. 

Please let me know what you're making for Hallowe'en and post your pictures too!

Image by Dunleavy Family reproduced under Creative Commons Licence

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Jammy So and So!

Well, so far so good.  I decided, having come across a few dishevelled looking berries in the bottom of the fridge, to make my own jam rather than chuck them out.  My decision was also spurred on by the donation of some plums from my friend’s garden which were far too sour to contemplate eating without first encasing in a tonne of sugar!  And how do you do that?  Jam!

So, collecting a few empty jars together, getting jam sugar from Tesco’s and purchasing a pack of jam pot covers (circa £1.50 from a local shop I never knew existed!) I started to trawl through jam recipes.  Talk of setting points and testing blobs on plates was all starting to get a bit too much for me and I could see pots and pots of runny stuff that I would have to pass off as sauce for ice cream taking up space in the fridge for weeks to come.  So, imagine my delight when I came across a jam recipe where you bung the whole lot in the microwave, stir it a few times and hey presto! Jam.  I’ve copied the recipe below for any others who’d prefer to cheat rather than spend hours standing with copper bottomed pots (I don’t even possess one of those) on the stove.  But perhaps everyone knew about this wonderful jam making innovation before me? 

Anyway, please use the recipe below, it works a treat.  And these are my beautiful pots of jam – one mixed berries and two plum (we’ve eaten another two of these already and they were delicious!).  I’ve put the two at the front into my Christmas stash for homemade presents (imagine my sisters delight when they unwrap jam for Christmas rather than Clarins J).

Makes around 4 small jars

500g fruit (I used blackberries, raspberries and strawberries for my mixed berry jam and plums for the plum jam!)
500g jam sugar (make sure it's jam sugar and not preserving sugar!)

Blend the fruit and sugar in a large microwave proof bowl (leave it to come up to room temperature once mixed).  Stir again and then place the bowl in the microwave on High for 3 mins (I have an 800 watt microwave so you may need to experiment a bit if yours is different).  Stir well.  Microwave for a further 3 minutes on High, stir again.  Finish off with a final 2 minutes on High in the microwave the pour into warm sterlised jars.  (Sterilise by washing in very hot water or in the dishwasher and then drying them off in the overn at 170 degrees for 10 to 20 minutes). 

Once bottled and cool, the jam is ready to eat but will keep in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.  Keep in the fridge once opened - and enjoy!

Do you have any other jam, marmalade or other preserve recipes that you'd like to share?  Or any tips for making it perfect?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

It’s Life, Jim, but not as we know it.

OK, not being a Trekkie, that might not be the exact quote but you get the idea.  Like every other parent on the planet, my life changed beyond recognition after the arrival of Cheeky Boy nearly eight years ago – possibly slightly before.  Lack of sleep was due to endless hours pacing the living room floor rather than spent staying far too late in bars chatting with friends.  Here I was (terrifyingly) responsible for this gorgeous, sweet, little bundle of energy.  

 Three short years later and Stinker Dhu (also known as Toots) came along, making me determined to change my working situation (I’d had to go back full-time for a number of reasons).  I also became the mummy who used and enthused (probably bored people to tears in reality) about real nappies, breast fed her until she was two and insisted that we all move to the countryside (well, in reality, a small town in the countryside) but still a world away from all our favourite restaurants, theatres, cinemas and friends in the city (well, who doesn’t drive these days?!).

After 18 months working four days a week and commuting 60 miles a day, Mr Thrifty and I decided enough was enough (if I’m honest, I think he was exhausted listening to me complain endlessly about the situation) and I handed in my notice (what a fabulous feeling that was!) and went freelance. 

I’m not that different from lots of others who’ve had kids – i.e. my life is chaos, I’m an unpaid taxi service and I have no money.  In the interests of saving money, doing a wee bit for the planet and trying to be a bit more creative, I’ve decided to fully embrace a Make Do and Mend attitude that would make my Granny proud (actually, she was THE original consumer but let’s pretend she was like those grannies the media are always bleating on about). 

So, here’s my diary of my own personal (well, family) experiment.  And my new commandments:

I will grow my own fruit and veg;
It shall be cooked and eaten by the family (Toots is likely to put a spanner in the works there!);
and (time will tell if the next decision is sensible or foolhardy) I will make, rather than buy, certain items for the house. 

To kick it off, we’re having a homemade Hallowe’en – so I thought I’d share the pain – and perhaps get some tips from others who are much better at this than me!