Homemade Tomato Ketchup

Two batches on the go...

After chutney, the next logical thing to do with a load of tomatoes, is to make homemade tomato ketchup. As some of the green tomatoes had ripened in storage, I decided to do two batches, one with the now ripe tomatoes and one with the still unripe, green tomatoes.

The recipe came from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home and is pretty simple; chuck everything into a pan, cook, blitz, add the vinegar and sugar, reduce further, bottle. It’s pretty simple stuff.

A hissing, spitting pan of molten ketchup...I was hoping that the green tomatoes would result in a green coloured ketchup, but alas, it’s turned out beige. Yes, beige ketchup. I’m not really sure what to make of that and I think it might have a bit of an image problem with the rest of the family, even though it tastes great. The ripe tomatoes have resulted in a ketchup that isn’t quite red either, it’s more of a pasta sauce orange, but again it’s really tasty.

We had some friends round one day the other week after school and as we’d run out of normal ketchup, my wife fed the four kids mine. One thought it was the best thing ever, another liked it, but two though it was minging. Since it was the older two who liked it, I’m putting it down to age, younger kids might not like the sweet and sour nature of it. I like it, even though it’s nothing like the shop bought stuff.

Ripe and unripe tomato ketchups...The only thing I’d add to the recipe though, is when it says reduce by half in the first part where you’re softening all the veg. Really reduce it at this point, as once you’ve blitzed it all to a purée and added the vinegar and sugar, it’ll hiss and spit something terrible as you reduce it to the consistency you want. So you really want it to be near the final volume, so you don’t get third degree burns from the molten hot contents of your pan.

Finally, like most things, once you’ve opened it and stored it in the fridge, it’ll thicken up. So unless you’ve used wide necked ketchup jars, you may struggle to get it out. I used old passata jars and they’ve worked well so far. If I’d made it any thicker, I would have been tempted to put it in normal jam jars, so I could spoon it out.

Green Tomato Chutney

Bread, cheddar and chutney...

I grew twenty four tomato plants this year, hoping for a bumper crop with which to make roasted tomato passata. Only four tomatoes ripened on the plants, which left me with an absolute glut of unripe green ones, which meant only one thing, lots of green tomato chutney.

I made some last year, following the recipe in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook and while it wasn’t a complete disaster, I was so focused on following the recipe that I over cooked it badly. This is the bit that I came unstuck over:

It is thick enough if, when you draw a wooden spoon through it, the chutney parts to reveal the base of the pan for a few seconds.

It took over four hours of cooking to get it anywhere near to this point, by which time it was just a thick dark brown paste; not really what you’re looking for in a chutney. This year I decided to go with the:

Let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for two and a half, to three hours — maybe even a bit more.

As a reference, rather than the being able to see the bottom of the pan. Green tomatoes... In the end I made three different batches, which I cooked for different lengths of time. It was interesting to see the difference only fifteen extra or fewer minutes cooking made to the final amount and how it looked.

Making chutney is a pretty simple process, chop up a load of veg, mix with some dried fruit, sugar, vinegar and a spice bag, then cook. The art would appear to be in selecting the fruit and veg to use and manipulating the spice bag to suit. It’s one of those things you can make at practically anytime of year, with whatever you have a load of. While I quite fancy trying Gingered Rhubarb and Fig, wrong time of year; or Pumpkin and Quince, right time of year; with so many green tomatoes and courgettes/marrows, there really was only one choice.

At the start of cooking...The problem I have with this kind of recipe, is that one mans simmer, is another mans boil. How hard am I suppose to simmer it…? Just a bit of a blip every now and again, or just short of an all out boil? This kind of thing really makes a difference with the cooking times, as not one of the three batches was anywhere near ready after two and a half hours, so does this mean I wasn’t cooking it hard enough? Any harder and I’d have been burning it to the bottom of the pan, which very nearly happened with the second batch anyway, as I wasn’t concentrating.

Given the above, I cooked all three batches on the same setting on the hob, just with fifteen minutes difference between each of them. So the first batch was cooked for three hours, the second batch for three and a half and the final batch for three and a quarter. In retrospect, I didn’t think that the first batch had been cooked for long enough. It wasn’t dark enough in colour and it was a bit watery. After two hours of blipping... The second batch I felt was maybe a touch over, while it still had good colour and clearly identifiable chunks in it, I just felt that the optimal was slightly less. Hence splitting the difference with the third and final batch.

I’ve no idea what the second and third batches taste like, as there was none left over after potting up. The first batch made five big jars (454g or 1lb if you prefer), one small jar (227g or 8oz), with a bit left over in a ramekin. The second batch made four and a half jars exactly, while the third batch made five jars exactly. So for each fifteen minutes, I was losing about a 227g jar’s worth of chutney. As the recipe says it makes ten to eleven 340g jars, there is obviously a bit of a mismatch between it and my experience. As five 454g jars (2,270g) is way short in volume terms, of ten 340g jars (3,400g).

The only thing I can think of, that could possibly be causing the mismatch, is the pan I use. As much as I want one, I don’t own a jelly pan, so make do with my five litre stock pot. From the left, batch 1, 2 and 3... As a jelly pan is purpose built to aid evaporation with its sloping sides, I can only think that using the stock pot requires more time, as the straight sides inhibit evaporation. Maybe I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and buy a proper jelly pan for next year; I already have it on a list of things I’d like to buy, along with a tamis, tart rings, dariole moulds and a larger jelly bag setup.

I had some of last years chutney at lunch yesterday and know that all three of these batches are better. So while I know that I’ll be giving away most of the sixteen jars that I’ve produced, I’m really quite looking forward to cracking into whatever I keep in a few months time.

Ginger Beer-Battered Stuffed Tofu with Asian Mushy Peas

Ginger Beer-Battered Stuffed Tofu with Asian Mushy Peas

This recipe is the whole reason I bought Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian book. To be honest though, I’ve been a bit too scared to cook it. I think that’s mainly due to me having no confidence in my ability to produce something that remotely resembles the photos of any dish I want to make. I always feel that I’m going to cock it up somehow and produce something that’s inedible. I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. It just so happened that one weekend I said to my wife that I’d cook her anything she wanted, but it had to be from this book. She chose this recipe, mainly because she knew I wanted to make it.

I thought there might be a few issues trying to put this dish together and I wasn’t wrong. The recipe calls for cutting a slit into the tofu and stuffing some of the filling into it. Now to me, any recipe that has a filling, obviously has the right amount of filling, i.e. there shouldn’t be any left over. So in this case, exactly a quarter of the filling should be stuffed into the slit in each of the four bits of tofu. Now, if you use the Cauldron Foods tofu like I do, there is no way you’re going to get anywhere near that much filling into a block of it, as it’s just too fragile. So either I’m using the wrong type of tofu, or the recipe produces way too much filling.

If you find yourself making this recipe and you’re using the Cauldron Foods tofu, don’t despair, there’s an easy solution. Instead of cutting a slit in the tofu, cut a trench. So rather than just the one cut in the middle of the block, make parallel cuts on the thirds and then scoop out the middle with the handle of a teaspoon, remembering to leave enough tofu at the edges and bottom. Then you should have enough space to stuff about a quarter of the filling into the tofu without any risk of it bursting open.

The only other thing I’d say about tofu, is that it’s pretty flavourless stuff, even when stuffed with a flavorful filling and encased in tasty batter. It’s especially tasteless, if it hasn’t been completely drained of all moisture, which I’ve never quite been able to do; at least not without damaging the tofu. I think that dusting it in some sort of spice mix, inside and out, might go some way to alleviating the watery flavourless lump that you encounter between the two really tasty bits.

Finally, this isn’t the biggest dish in the world, even with the mushy peas, it’s crying out for a side of chips, wedges, or something similar. I have an inkling to pair it with the Rosemary and Butternut Squash Polenta Chips, or a variation thereof. Either way, I’m definitely going to make it again, although I might try and make my own tofu first…

Mattar Paneer

Mattar Paneer

Our daughter isn’t the most adventurous eater, it’s something we hope she’ll grow out of, just like her older brother did. She likes cheese though, so we thought we’d cook a curry with paneer and maybe she’d have a go at eating it. This would probably have gone better if I hadn’t replaced the required two teaspoons of medium chilli powder for one teaspoon of hot chilli powder. I thought it was lovely, everyone else thought it was too hot, which resulted in me having lots of leftovers to consume.

I found this recipe for Mattar Paneer on the internet, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which one it was that I followed. I’m going to have to do a bit of searching and see if I can find it again, as I really enjoyed it. I might just leave out the chilli powder next time though…

Update:

I think it might have been this recipe on the Guardian website that I followed…

North African Squash and Chickpea Stew

IMG_20130401_192423_1

I quite like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day book, it’s my kind of simple unfussy cooking. I’d been wanting to cook this North African Squash and Chickpea Stew recipe for a while, but the rest of the household had always vetoed the idea. We needed something hearty and warming one weekend though, as the weather was pretty dire, so I finally got my wish.

It was ridiculously easy to make, as everything went into the one pot. I also made some pitta breads to go along with it, shame I can’t remember whose pitta recipe I used. I thought it was really nice, but the kids found it a bit much, I think it was the teaspoon of ground black pepper that did it. Just a bit too much warming heat and spice…

As we had two portions left over, it meant that I could have it again at my leasure. So one evening last week, I took a tub of it out of the freezer and had it for my dinner. I paired it with some plain couscous that I stirred some of my homemade harissa into and it worked really well. It’s definitely something I want to make again, whether I’ll be allowed to or not, is another matter…