Well, as I sit to write this post it is my last day of annual leave this year. Ouch. I’m soon to be moving on from A&E to my next job in Orthopaedics which I’m not thrilled about as well, I’ve loved the Emergency Department more than I ever thought I would and its a very different job to that of a House Officer on a ward. I have a horrid feeling early starts and late finishes will become the norm plus I’m working every weekend bar one now until mid-January! Thankfully it will only be for two months then I will be moving on again. Shame, however, such a busy time at work coincides with the busiest time of the year at home – Christmas! It is an irony I’m sure everyone who has completed a university degree then emerged into the world of gainful employment that finally, for once in your “do you give student discount?” lives that now you have money to spend, you have no time to spend it! As this year, we will be spending Christmas with my side of the family I’m getting the double-edged sword of being the one to cook for the family. Of course, I love to do it – I am sad each year that I am not involved in the cooking – but now I’m time poor, it’s going to be a juggling act of such complexity that it would not appear out of place on the Cirque Du Soleil stage! Fortunately, I live firstly to cook then secondly to organise! 😉
Here I am drawing up a couple of lists (another favourite pastime along with blogging and pretending I go to the gym 😉 ) – one of the dishes I will make this Christmas and another for the ingredients I do not have. An Ocado order will be made this week for all non-perishable items and as you will shortly see, I’ve already made and stored away the first item on my list – Chelly. Military precision, that’s what I’m going for this year! For I fear the only way I will be able to relax and truly enjoy the time I have with my family will be to put in a few hours each week from now on to stock my stock cupboard and fill my freezer with homemade goodies to bring out when their moment in the fairy spotlight arrives. Let us see how this fares come New Year – if it was a huge success, great – I will have discovered a way to make the most manic time of the year less frenzied. If not, well, nae matter – what is Chrimbo without a tale of disaster, culinary or familial to tell for years to come? 😉 So back to this Santa Claus ruby red elixir, a Christmas requirement in Casa Cranny…
I remember the year I first saw Nigella Christmas on tele. I recall being in absolute agreement with her over the necessity of a myriad of twinkly lights, the use of the same ornaments each year, the festivities, the feeding, the surrounding oneself with family and friends and celebrating of our fortune together. Some may say her way is a tad too kitsch and yes, I suppose it does give into consumerist greed at times but there is something just so magical in the air at this time of year, an anticipation felt by the masses, a wave of happiness which I for one find ever more palpable as the big day approaches that get me through the icy cold of the winter months for yet another year. Bringing out her book, Nigella Christmas heralds the start of this joyful time like no other. Her chelly, or to give it it’s full title “chilli jam” is kick starting my pantry preparation this year. Let us get those CSI gloves out and prep our spicy chillies and peppers. Please don’t be too precise over removing each and every last seed – just roll the de-roofed chilli (by that I mean, one that has had it’s top sliced off) upside down and if it is a good, fresh one, the vast majority will easily clatter out onto your chopping board. I have done this once bare handed – never again. I spent that day with my hands in milk, oats, you name it, anything to cool the unremitting burn! Thank goodness I haven’t worn contact lenses since 1999 😉
Once you’ve arrived at this point, relax, pour yourself a brew (or hell, a glass of wine, it is *nearly* Christmas after all 😉 ) as the hard work is over. A mere period of seconds in the food processor and your chunks are now luminescent red confetti.
Once these seasonal shavings have been scraped into a vat of sugar and cider vinegar, they are brought to a rollicking boil. That is Nigella’s description and I just love it – can’t you just imagine the billowing, rolling, rocky sea-like waves of chilli flecked syrup cascading around your biggest pan? And I do mean biggest – being boiling sugar you don’t want to risk spitting and sputtering or boiling over the top of the pan as it is ferociously hot and will seriously burn you if split whilst still hot. But don’t be scared – just give this feisty pickle a little breathing space and all will be well! Just look at that tangerine orange cloud bubbling up in my pot. Isn’t that a heartwarming colour to you?
10-15 minutes of boiling later, switch off and let the volcano die down to reveal a jelly-like lava pool in the base of your pot.
I always sterilise more jars than are needed, just in case I’ve misjudged their size. I use less sugar than Nigella and actually, I use caster with the juice of two big fat lemons to help the set as I find I never remember to buy a bag of jam sugar when I want to make more chelly. Whichever sugar you use, do bear in mind the set is very soft – think a semi-solid sweet chilli sauce rather than a jar of store-bought, commercially produced seedless raspberry jam, for instance. This stuff will convert anyone who thinks making jam or preserves is beyond them – both by the taste and also by the ease of method. It’s a perfect pantry stable to smear on a bacon sandwich, on a chunk of cheese or even to make salad dressings with for a Thai inspired salad of finely julienned vegetables. It’s also fabulous swirled into some mayo for an alternative potato wedge dip and even conscientious-chilli-objector Hungry Hubby adores it and can get through a jar to himself at an alarming rate. If you can bear to part with it, chelly makes a lovely addition to hampers of homemade goodies and it keeps for a year unopened. It fits the bill of frantic festive prepare ahead food perfectly and I could not have a Christmas, nor a kitchen really, without some chelly on my shelf winking back at me in the crystal clear November and December daylight.
So there we have it, I’ve broken the seal on Christmas and shall be continuing to blog what I make along the way. It’s going to be a frantic year for me and every little ounce of Christmas that I can usher into my home will be very much wanted, for it always goes too fast, even when I was a lowly student with time on my hands 😉 Some will feel its too soon but I’m sure many are in my position and would love some simple, make ahead recipes to add to your arsenal of goodies. Many shall be found in Nigella Christmas, I can tell you that for free ;).
- 150 g red chillies
- 150 g red pepper (usually just one decent sized one)
- 750 g sugar (jam sugar or use the juice of two fat lemons with your ordinary sugar)
- 600 ml cider vinegar
Using a very large pan to allow for bubbling up of the mixture later, heat the sugar and vinegar over a low heat without stirring until fully dissolved (this may take quite a while).
Deseed the pepper and chillies (you can leave the seeds in if you like fire!) then blitz in a food processor until you have tiny pieces of red confetti. Add this to the pan and bring to the boil.
Keep the jam boiling hopefully without much spitting or boiling over for a full ten minutes, although longer wouldn't hurt.
Take off the heat and leave to cool for 45 minutes.
Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal tightly.
This is a very soft set jam, rather like a semi solid sweet chilli sauce - it doesn't set like trafitional fruit jams do.
To sterilise - run the jars and lids through a hot wash on your dishwasher (without dirty dishes in at the same time!) and then fill whilst still warm.
OR wash in hot soapy water, rinse of all residue then pop the jars in a low oven until dry, use warm a above.
Lastly - remember not to touch the inside of your sterile jars to prevent contamination.
Adapted from Nigella Christmas
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