I'm having a blog identity crisis. I've been ignoring my other half. I'm not married, so no, I don't mean my husband. I mean the other half of what this blog is supposed to be about. I've been having a nice summer creating lots of salads, canning stuff when I can (and freezing it when I can't can) and doing a bit of baking here and there. But I haven't been writing at all about usability and user experience. Definitely part of is has been that I've been taking advantage of all of the social media, promotion and blog marketing tools that I've discovered in the food blog world, so I've been focusing a lot on writing recipe posts. I'm pretty amazed at the sheer number of food blogs there are out there, many of them excellent and inspiring. But it's also a little overwhelming. I definitely feel like I need to both step up my game in the quality of food photos (which means investing in a decent digital SLR) and the variety of recipe posts. But I also need to really find my niche and differentiate my blog from others. I still think that the differentiator should be a focus on usability and user experience with cooking, so I plan on focusing on that a little more down the road. Those kinds of posts are more difficult to write, and generally not as much fun, but really, I'm not doing this to have fun.
But for now, here's a fun chutney recipe. At this point you must think that I'm chutney crazy. I sort of am, but my real reason for making chutneys this summer/fall rather than jam, jelly or simply freezing fruit has been twofold: first, I've made jams and jellies all of my life and I don't find them particularly challenging anymore. Chutneys have more ingredients, have more complex flavors and the end result can be used in ways other than just spread on toast. I serve this chutney with curries, with a cheese plate, as a condiment for egg rolls, on a sandwich, with chicken, fish or pork. Yesterday, I was making some chicken soup, so I added a teaspoonful of the chutney, and it added a nice acidic sweetness that really added to the overall flavor of the soup.
The second reason is economic. I think it can be argued that price isn't an issue if you are learning something about preserving food, so it doesn't matter how much you spend on home canning. But it can also be argued that the main reasons to preserve food at home is to control the quality and sources of what you eat and to save money. I didn't can tomatoes this summer. The late blight on the east coast and New England drove up the price of organic tomatoes, and it didn't make sense for me to pay $50 for 11lbs of tomatoes (nice organic tomatoes run about $4.50/lb at the farmers market) which would translate to probably 5 or 6 pints of canned tomatoes - a cost of roughly $8/pint. I didn't get out of the city often enough to canvas rural farmers markets for cheaper tomatoes. I wanted to do something with tomatoes before they all disappeared from the farmers market, so I decided to make this chutney. I bought some cheaper, non organic tomatoes at $2.00/lb from the farmers market. I got a little over 5lbs of tomatoes for the chutney, which in the end resulted in 8 half-pints of chutney. Figuring in sugar, vinegar, spices and raisins (organic where I could, all cost approximately $4.00) each half-pint ended up costing me about $1.75 each.
The magic of fruit chutney is to have idiosyncratic yet complimentary blends of fruit, sugar, spices and acid. The amounts of each vary depending of if you are making a spicier chutney or a sweeter one. This chutney is pretty sweet, but it's also very acidic, with equal parts of sugar and vinegar. You probably could make this chutney spicier by adding fresh chilies or more cayenne, but I think I'd rather have a hot chutney (like lime or a specific spicy chili chutney) as a separate condiment. This chutney is fairly easy to make - it doesn't require a lot of preparation besides peeling and cutting the tomatoes, chopping garlic and ginger. It calls for garam masala, a ground spice blend which you can make yourself by grinding your own spices (cinnamon, cumin, clove, pepper, ginger, anise, etc) which I did with the last chutney I made. One of the great things about living in NYC is that you have close access to specialty stores that carry fresh spices and spice mixes. I found some already mixed garam masala from Dual Specialty Store on 1st ave and 6th street - their custom house blend is great.
Three notes on this chutney. First, it WILL make your apartment/house smell like vinegar while it's cooking (but in a nice way, of course). Second, you really do need to cook it for longer than you think you do. It should get to the point where it is dark, thick and shiny, about 90 minutes. Third, the recipe below makes approximately 8 half-pints so I processed them in a boiling water bath. If you don't feel up to processing them, cut the recipe in half, and after cooking put the chutney in glass jars while it's still hot, let cool and refrigerate.
Sweet Tomato Chutney
Adapted From Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking
- 5 lbs of fresh tomatoes
- 4 cups white sugar
- 4 cups white vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic (about 10 cloves or 1 medium head)
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek seed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 t cayenne pepper
- 3 t salt
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 cup raisins
Peel tomatoes by scoring the tomatoes and blanching for 20 -30 seconds in boiling water. Chop into large chunks. Place all ingredients, except raisins, in a large non-reactive heavy bottomed pot. Cover and bring to a boil. After 30 minutes, remove the lid, add raisins and adjust the heat so you have a low boil. Continue cooking uncovered for approximately another hour, until it has reduced by half, is thick, dark and shiny. You will need to stir it more frequently towards the end as it will be thick and you don't want it to burn on the bottom.
If you are going to can the chutney, prepare your jars by sterilizing in boiling water. Fill jars with hot chutney, gently tap to remove air bubbles, wipe jar edges, and place lids on the jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Confirm all jars are sealed. Chutney will last for approximately 1 year in sealed jars.