Easy cooking for Winter

These two seasonal recipes, one for a basic inexpensive mince recipe that can use up left-overs, and the other for marmalade using Seville Oranges in season, can be made in stages;  do as much as you want, then come back to them a few hours later or the next day.

I haven’t given strict timings because this depends on you and how tired you might be; if taking the recipes in stages remember to keep on stirring, so that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – but do beware of scalding hot splashes from the marmalade.

Close up of Cottage Pie being scooped out of baking dish, ready to be servedThe first recipe is based on beef mince, but you can use any minced meat or meat substitute. If using tofu or any meatless mince, shorten cooking time as this cooks quicker than beef mince.

Mince is one of the cheapest forms of meat.  If you have a good butcher they will be able  to suggest suitable mince ‘to order’ – fat, lean or fatless. Mince is the basis of many dishes; so if you cook up a big batch, you can freeze it in small portions to use as a basis for other dishes.

Basic recipe  (will make approx 4-5 portions with mince only, 6-8 if containing veg)

  • 1/2 kilo minced beef  (local beef generally has more taste than imported and uses less food miles.  Look for the Red Tractor symbol or buy from a local Butcher)
  • I chopped onion  (more if you like onions a lot!)
  • 1 tablespoon herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme, etc.  I prefer fresh but you can use dried)
  • 400 grm tin tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil to fry – or similar fat

Fry the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil or fat until they are transparent (about 5 mins). Add mince, and fry gently for 10 min on low heat, then add tinned tomatoes, herbs, and any other ingredients you fancy.

You can keep to the basic recipe, but now is the time to add in the left-overs in the fridge: chopped carrots, mushrooms, peas, parsnips, leeks, celery, wine, stock, ketchup, etc. until it is starting to smell appetising – about 20 mins  The consistency will depend on how much liquid (stock or juice from tomatoes) you add, and what you are going to use it for (e.g  for cottage pie you need a dry-ish base, but for pasta dishes it needs to be fairly sloppy).

  • You can also add Worcester Sauce (I tablespoon); tomato ketchup (I tbsp) red wine, garlic cloves, tomato puree (1 – 2 tbsps),,2 bay leaves, and use beef or vegetable stock if you need a more liquid base (cubes are fine)
  • lots of ground black pepper and a little salt

Freeze this in meal portion sizes, and take out of the freezer to make

  1. cottage pie
  2. the French upmarket version hachis parmentier,
  3. lasagne
  4. moussaka
  5. meat balls
  6. pasta dishes etc

When you bring out the basic frozen portions, you can add more vegetables, fresh herbs etc.  Bring back to simmer, then cook gently for about 25 – 30 mins until it smells and tastes OK.

Serve with mashed potato, rice, pasta, etc. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top if available.


This was the time of year when our forebears made marmalade. For centuries Seville exported oranges to Britain at this time, and today sends us about four million tons of generally unwaxed fruit.  If you are not going to use the oranges straight away, don’t leave them in the fruit bowl as they will dry out, but pop them in the freezer to use later. The skin of these oranges is pockmarked and their pectin content is unusually high, which is good for jam making.

We always used to make marmalade in a rather ‘different’ way, cutting up the whole fruit after it had been boiled. The idea of making marmalade this way makes it easier to cut up the fruit.  Recently I read the River Cottage Handbook No2  by Pam Corbin (Bloomsbury, 12.99) and found ‘our’ recipe again; it really is much the easiest way of making marmalade.

This recipe makes lovely presents;  if you can, keep spare jars for unexpected gifts. Once you have mastered the basic marmalade recipe, you can vary it to include grapefruit, lemons etc.  Just make sure there are plenty of oranges and sugar in the right proportion.


  • 1 kg Seville oranges (2lb 2oz)
  • Lemon juice 75ml (2 1/2 fl oz)
  • 2 kg Granulated sugar (4lb 4oz)
  • clean, sterilised jars – probably around 9 – 12 – with tops.  If you want to give this as a present, you can buy special jars;  otherwise any clean jars will do, sterilise these in the oven or by boiling – but get someone to help if you are a bit wobbly
  • waxed circles to pop on top of the marmalade;  Kilner make these, and you find them in John Lewis, old-fashioned hardware stores etc.


  • You will need a very large saucepan, capable of holding 10+ lbs.    You need clear space at the top, rather than filling the saucepan to the brim. Can you lift this, or do you have someone who can do this for you? 

    Each paragraph is a separate step;  if pacing yourself you can do this step by step, resting the cooked ingredients somewhere cool in between.

    Wash the fruit, remove the ‘buttons’ at the top and pop whole oranges into a large saucepan with 2.5 litres water. Bring to the boil then simmer, covered, for 2–2½ hours or until the orange skins are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork. When cool enough to handle, take the oranges out. Measure and keep the cooking water – you should have about 1.7 litres. Make it up to this amount with more water if you have less, or bring to the boil and reduce if you have more.

    Cut the oranges in half and remove the pips with a fork. Strain any juice from the pips back into the cooking water, then discard the pips.

    Meanwhile, cut up the orange peel and flesh into thick, medium or thin shreds (depends on how you like your marmalade). This takes some time, so it helps if a friend can assist!  Or if you are lucky enough to have a suitable food processor let it do this!  Put the cut-up fruit into the strained cooking liquid. Add the lemon juice and sugar and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to a rolling (strong) boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached, about 10–15 mins. It will be very hot so watch out for spits and splashes.

    Setting Point

    This is the crucial point;  if you stop too early the jam doesn’t set and is runny.  There should be enough sugar in the mixture, roughly equal weights of fruit and sugar, to make it set. Don’t worry if your first attempt produces runny marmalade – it just proves it is home-made!

    Setting point for jam is 105c (220F)  a sugar thermometer clipped to the side of your saucepan, with the end dipped in the boiling mixture will help. Once the boiling mixture has reached the correct temperature then your jam should set.

    If you don’t have a thermometer you can check for setting point using the “wrinkle” test. Before cooking put 3 or 4 small heatproof plates in the freezer. Once your jam has boiled for several minutes, take the pan off the heat and carefully spoon a little jam onto one of the cold plates. Let it stand for a minute then push the blob of jam with your finger, if the surface of the jam wrinkles then it has set, if it is still quite liquid then put the pan back on the heat and boil the jam for another 3 to 5 minutes before testing again.

    Pectin (the setting agent) can be destroyed by extended boiling so make jam in a large saucepan (the fruit and sugar mixture should not come more than one third up the side of the pan) so that the mixture boils rapidly, and start testing for setting point early on.

    Leave to cool for 10–20 minutes – stir gently to disperse any scum, pour into warm, sterilized jars, seal immediately with waxed discs.  Put tops on when mixture is cold. Use within two years.

    Making marmalade this way is to make it easier to cut up the fruit. Enjoy!


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