FRUGAL FOODIE: Comfort foods kick in as cold weather starts

Nasturtium seeds
Nasturtium seeds

So, who else is feeling the need for serious comfort food all of a sudden? The drop in temperature has altered my cooking dramatically now that I just want to be out of the cold and dark and in front of the fire with warm, comforting food and maybe some Downton!

My intake of mashed potatoes has increased (along with my waistline) and I’m not satisfied with new potatoes anymore. They’ve got to be roasted and crispy!

Frugal Foodie

Frugal Foodie

I also want the flavours of all the woody herbs that are still thriving in the garden like rosemary and thyme. It’s a matter of time before I have an oily, garlicky, rosemary focaccia in the oven.

I cooked an ancient shoulder of lamb that was lingering in my freezer last night smothered with a paste of rosemary, olive oil, sea salt and loads of garlic, which I had pummelled in the pestle and mortar. I slashed it all over and got the paste into all the nooks and crannies and the flavour was amazing.

It’s also the time to make sure you’re preserving the last fruit and vegetables so that you can enjoy their flavours throughout the winter.

ROASTED TOMATOES

Frugal Foodie

Frugal Foodie

If you’ve got any tomatoes left, why not roast them and preserve them in oil? You can have the flavours of summer for months to come. The roasting intensifies the sweet flavour of the tomatoes so much and they are almost jammy. You will have to try to demonstrate some serious restraint not to just eat them all straight from the tray!

Method: I halve all the tomatoes and place them cut side up in a roasting dish in a single layer. I put some basil leaves and sliced garlic over and among them and then sprinkle sea salt all over and drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar. Then pop them in the oven on a fairly low heat for an hour or so. I then just jar them up with all the ingredients included. Give the jar a little bang to make sure there are no air bubbles and then top up with olive oil. Use them in Middle Eastern-style dishes or in pasta or just put them on crusty bread. They’re delicious all ways. You can preserve red and yellow peppers in exactly the same way.

CHILLI JAM

I’ve had an abundant crop of chillies this year so I’m also going to preserve those. I’ll dry some of them by simply picking them and letting them sit on a warm windowsill for a while. I’ll also roast some and jar them up in oil with garlic and oregano and I also fancy pickling some. I’m just going to pickle it in a vinegar, salt and sugar solution. I’m also going to make chilli jam to go with crusty bread, cheese and cold meats.

Christine McAllister

Christine McAllister

Method: Finely chop around 200g of deseeded red chillies and put them in a large pan with 450ml vinegar and 1kg preserving sugar. Bring it to a good rolling simmer and let it continue to simmer for about 15 minutes. A good way to check if your jam is ready is to chill a saucer (I put it in the freezer for a while) and then put a spoonful of the jam onto the saucer. It should be set enough for you to run a spoon through the middle and for the gap to remain. If it’s still very runny continue to cook for another 5 mins before testing again. When it’s ready, turn the heat off and put it into sterile jars.

Now all you need to do is empty your cupboards so that all your lovely preserves can fit!

PICKLED NASTURTIUM SEEDS

If you’ve got nasturtiums in your garden, did you know that you can use the seeds as well as the flowers? They add loads of flavour to your meals. Treat them a bit like capers. They have an intense peppery flavour and are fantastic pickled. I haven’t tried it yet but wondered about roasting them and maybe mixing them with salt and wasabi so they’re a little like Japanese nuts. I’ll experiment and get back to you.

Method: Put your seeds (make sure they’re lovely and green and firm) into sterilised jars. Mix a sliced clove of garlic with finely sliced lemon zest, salt, sugar, a few peppercorns and white wine vinegar and slowly bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Turn the heat off and, when the liquid has cooled, pour it over the nasturtium seeds. Leave for 2-3 months before using.

APPLE CHUTNEY

Apple chutney is on the go at the moment in my house. It may be the predictable chutney but it doesn’t make it any less delicious. I’m a bit slap-dash when I’m making it as I don’t weigh or measure but it always tastes great! These are probably about the measures that I use.

Indgredients

1.5kg cooking apples; 500g onions; 750g sugar (I usually use a mix of soft brown and caster); 500ml malt vinegar; Zest and juice of two lemons or oranges; 1 tsp chilli flakes; 1 tsp ground ginger; 1 tsp allspice; ½ tsp cinnamon; Large pinch of salt; 1 tbsp of mustard seed; 1 tsp ground coriander.

Method: I sometimes add a couple of handfuls of raisins or sultanas but not always. I core my apples but I don’t bother peeling them. I just chop them finely or even better let the food processor do it for me! Dice the onions finely. Put all the ingredients in a large pan and very slowly, stirring all the time, bring it to the boil. Gently simmer for a few hours (probably 3-4) until it’s nice and thick and you can separate the mixture by drawing a spoon through it. When it’s still hot decant into sterilised jars. It’s best if you can wait 2-3 months until you use it but it’ll taste nice straight away! Especially for a vinegar addict like myself!

PICKLED CUCUMBER

I am still getting a good crop of cucumbers but that will end very soon so I am pickling crazily! I’ve got enough to see me through the next two years, at least! I have been using mine as an accompaniment to curries but it’s also lovely with fish.

Method: I salt finely sliced cucumber in the colander and drain the excess water first and while I’m waiting for this I slowly bring to the boil a mixture of malt vinegar, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, mustard seeds, salt and sugar. Keep stirring and when the sugar is dissolved remove from the heat. Leave to cool and then mix with the drained cucumber and jar up.

Follow Frugal Foodie Christine McAllister on Twitter @thefrugaldiary or read her blog at diaryofafoodie.co.uk.