Sunday, 2 December 2012

Edible Christmas Gifts - I

I get a lot of satisfaction from making or creating things. It’s part of the reason I enjoy cooking – the idea of concocting a dish completely different from its component parts which on their own would be far less exciting, is a big draw. Alongside the glaring fact that I like to eat.

It’s also why I enjoy gardening, particularly fruit and vegetables - the Spring-time ritual of applying an inanimate seed to some dirt, adding water, giving it light and time and that resulting in the beautiful slow motion animation of germination, growth, bud, bloom and the setting of fruit is immensely gratifying. Not to mention the produce is quite handy for my first point.

Then there are textiles and sewing. I can’t walk into a shop and look at a cushion without giving it the once over and proudly exclaiming ‘£25?! I could make that myself’ (not always the case, alas). 

And so I put my money where my mouth is, and I attempt soft furnishings. I have so far been successful in making several cushion covers (one even from an old unwanted cardigan); a pair of curtains for one window in the main bedroom (lined, I might add) – the second window is still patiently waiting to be dressed; personalised Christmas stockings for Matt and I; and I am about 9 patches into a kingsize patchwork quilt (that project is a labour of love). Knowing I can make things very similar to those priced quite highly in the shops just by trying it out and watching a few handy youtube videos, has a huge satisfaction factor. Making things, being creative, working with my hands – all activities that appeal to me.

And so I see Christmas as the green light to get out the craft kit, get the apron on, and start cooking up some edible homemade gifts. What’s particularly appealing about this is I can incorporate my love of cooking with my penchant for craftiness in their packaging and decoration. These are little stocking fillers to give to friends and colleagues on the last few days at work before breaking up for the holidays, and to leave a little something with family when squeezing in fleeting visits on Boxing Day.

The sneaky tip over into December marks the time to start on the chutney. They need about 1 month to develop their flavour before being consumed, so now is a good time to get them done and ticked off the list.

This is a recipe I’ve used for the past couple of years now and it goes down a treat.

Caramelised red onion chutney

This goes incredibly well with strong cheeses and biscuits – get your fill in before ‘normal eating’ returns post festive period. Very simple to make.
Fills about 5 small-medium jars


You will need five small to medium glass jars with their metal lids. You can either purchase kilner jars specifically, or if you happen to keep jars when you finish with their contents, use those. Screw tops are preferable to flip tops as the seal is stronger. The jars I used were smaller than jam jars – small caper jars, jars with mustard, small honey jars etc.

These jars will need to be sterilised and need to be filled when both the jars and the chutney are still hot. You can either put them through a cycle in the dishwasher and time it so that your chutney is ready once the cycle is complete. Or you can put the jars (lids off) in an oven at 180C for at least 20 minutes. The heat from both of these methods will kill of any germs that could contaminate your delicious chutney contents. Hand washing them in hot water will not suffice for sterilisation, but be sure to do this anyway once you’ve finished with their original contents.

10 large red onions
1 large red chilli
2 bay leaves
Olive oil
200g brown sugar
150ml balsamic vinegar
150ml red wine vinegar

Slice your onions very finely. You want to be sure you first slice off enough top and enough of the root to get rid of any parts of the onion that are tougher. Then remove two layers of the outer onion after the initial paper layer (this is why you want large ones to begin with). It’s the remainder that you want to slice up. Slice your chilli in half, remove the seeds, and chop the rest of it finely.

Tip The easiest and quickest way to slice this volume of onions with a consistent thickness is with a v-slicer or mandoline slicer. This is the one I use – worth putting on your Christmas wish list if you don’t already have one. It can of course be sliced with a knife, it will just take a bit longer. 
 If you are using a v-slicer or mandoline slicer, be sure to slice the onion in the holder in half with a knife first so the slices don’t come out as rings, otherwise they’ll be too long to spoon out of your jar.

Add your onion, bay leaves and chilli to a large pan with some olive oil and cook over a low heat with a lid on for a good 20-30 minutes, or until they soften and become sticky and a bit stringy. Add a sprinkle of salt to help draw out the liquid. I find a wok is very  useful for this as it holds a large volume and distributes the heat to more of the onions than a large saucepan would.

Once the onions are soft and sticky, add the sugar and vinegars and simmer for 30 minutes or so with the lid off, until almost all of the liquid has disappeared and the chutney is thick and dark. Be sure to give it a stir now and again.

Pour the chutney into your hot, sterilised jars – try to not let any touch the tops of the jar where the lid screws on. If you do, wipe with clean kitchen paper. Push the contents down so any large air pockets are filled. Put your lids on and allow to cool. After a while, push the pop button of your lid in if it has one – it should stay down. This happens because the air in the jars has contracted whilst cooling down. When the lid is first opened after this, the button should pop indicating freshness as it would have done with its original contents.

Keep your jars in a cool dark place for the chutney to develop their flavours for at least a month before consuming.

Et voila – my first set of Christmas stocking fillers complete.

There is then the matter of decorating these little gifts. You can let your creative juices run free here, using up any scrap bits of crafty stuff you might have lying around. I plan furnish mine quite simply. I will top the jars with a square of material – I have some red and green gingham along with some festive looking check left over from last year. 

They will be secured with basic brown jute string tied around the neck of the jar, and from them needs to hang a label. I have a wad of brown paper that I have saved from various packaging received in parcels throughout the year (did I also mention I like to recycle and re-use?) and I’m almost certain I can turn these into neat looking labels. Turns out after a bit of origami style experimenting, some well concealed cellotape and a hole-punch, it’s actually fairly easy. If you’d like to replicate, I’ve included the instructions below.

Take a rough square of your chosen paper and fold it about two thirds of the way up. The height you are left with will be the total length of your label.

Fold the top two corners down to the centre until they meet.

Fold the two edges in to create a label shape and secure with a bit of sticky tape folded over into a loop so it's sticky on both sides - this way you can conceal the tape.

Turn it over and you have a label. Use a hole punch to create a hole for the string. Repeat for as many as you'll need.

I hope these will go down a treat for the lucky folk receiving them.
Don't forget to make an extra jar for yourself.

Alfiyet olsun.

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