Sunday, December 17, 2017

The 7th bite of Christmas to nibble round the tree is... a double dozen of magnificent mini mince pies #12BitesOfChristmas

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The 7th bite of Christmas is great with a cup of tea…

 And technically, you only need two ingredients...

·        pastry
(The one I’ve used is the well-behaved sweet crust pastry from the Bakewell Tart recipe in Alchemy: Simple Ingredients… Magical Food. It is a buttery, crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth pastry I tend to use for all sweet tarts and pies – if you are following the recipe, I’ve substituted vanilla extract for the almond extract mentioned - but you can always use a commercial pastry if buttery, crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth is not your thing.

·        mincemeat
I’ve used the mincemeat recipe I put on the blog a few weeks ago (on this occasion I left out the almonds and increased the walnuts according, and I left out the cranberries and doubled the amount of mixed peal for a satisfyingly orangey note.) The actual work involved in making the mincemeat is minimal, however you will need a little time to let it cook gently – preferably make it the day before at the very least to give the flavours time to meld. Or you can buy it.

You will also need mini muffin tins – I have two x 12 hole tins  - this recipe makes 24; a 6cm round cutter; and a cutter just big enough to cut out circles to make the lids– or shaped cutters like I’ve used

 For 24 magnificent mini mince pies, you will need:

470g short crust pastry (see introduction above)
250g mincemeat (homemade or commercial)

a little milk to stick down the lids and glaze (optional)
a little icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm – the thickness of a euro or a pound coin. Using the 6cm round cutter, stamp out 24 rounds of pastry and use to line the mini muffin tins.

Re-roll the scraps if needed...
Stamp out 24 lids using a smaller round cutter and or shaped cutters just big enough to reach right to the edges of the muffin tin holes – stars are very Christmassy. You may need to gather up the scraps of pastry and reform into a smooth ball before re-rolling and cutting out the rest of the tops. No biggy.

Divide the mincemeat between the pastry cups – they will take a small teaspoon of the filling – don’t be overgenerous or the filling will burst out of the pies during cooking.

Don't be overgenerous with the filling or it will burst out of its pastry shell...
Cover the filled cups with a pastry lid moistened with a little water – or milk if using. (Lightly brushing the lids with milk will help to brown them). Chill for about 30 minutes then bake in a pre-heated oven for between 12 and 15 minutes or until evenly golden brown.
Remove from the tins and leave to cool on cooling tray. Dust with icing sugar.

Mince Pies ... Hygge Heaven!!!
They are delicious at room temperature or gently heated and served with vanilla ice cream, or a little brandy cream or brandy butter.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

The 5th and 6th bites of Christmas I've made for you and me are... a Mini Fuyu Persimmon Caprese and a regular Mini Caprese


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The 5th and 6th bites of Christmas I've made for you and me are...

#5 Mini Fuyu Persimmon Caprese and #6 a regular Mini Caprese

The persimmons you’ll most likely see in the shops are the fuyu type – you’re in luck because this one can be eaten at various stages of ripeness. I love, love, love it as a healthy dessert when it is ripe enough to yield under your thumb – then it is supposed to taste of pear, dates, with the toffee-ness of brown sugar and hints of cinnamon. Dunno about that but they are mwah!

However, before they get to this sweet, melting ripeness, they are pretty good baked or as the anchor for a mini caprese. When they are still firm they have a slight astringency which works well with the cheese.

I like to make a regular caprese with cherry tomatoes too because the slightly sweet persimmon contrasts nicely with the tomato version - and they are gloriously colourful on the plate. Watch out though – these relatively healthy nibbles will have vanished long before the crisps and olives!

For 12 – 16 people (3-4 per person) you will need
48 mini mozzarella balls
2 firm fuyu persimmons, peeled, halved then cut into 6 chunks per half
24 cherry tomatoes cut in half across the middle
48 fresh basil leaves
a little vinaigrette for drizzling over the top
Cocktail sticks or mini skewers

It’s an assembly job really.

For the fuyu persimmon caprese:
Skewer the following ingredients in the order given:
1 basil leaf
1 mozzarella ball
1 chunk of fuyu persimmon
Repeat 23 more times

For the regular mini caprese:
Skewer the following ingredients in the order given:
1 basil leaf
1 mozzarella ball
½ a cherry tomato (skewer through the round end first so you end up with a flat bottom so that you can stand them upright on a platter)
Repeat 23 more times

Mine, all mine !

When read to serve, drizzle with a little vinaigrette – my Vivacious Vinaigrette recipe is under Sauce’ry here

If you are planning to eat any yourself, take them now because there won’t be any left in 10 minutes’ time!
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The 4th bite of Christmas I've made with utter glee is... Smoked Mackerel Pâté


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The 4th bite of Christmas I've made with utter glee is...

Smoked Mackerel Pâté - so easy it's hardly a recipe!

This is so easy to make, it's hardly a recipe. Simply put everything into a food processor and blitz. If you haven’t got a food processor, simply chop and mix until combined. This pâté is super-versatile. 

For tasty little bites, spread it on little crackers or crostini...
scoop it up with curls of melba toast soldiers... 
stuff cherry tomatoes for a real pop of flavour...  
fill mini pastries... 
slather on blinis and adorn with pearls of roe... 
serve it with toast and a little salad for a delicious lunch or as a starter...

You'll find the recipe in the book -  Alchemy – Simple Ingredients...Magical Food under Starters, Snacks and Light Bites

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

For the third bite of Christmas the treat I've made for thee is... Julia Yates' Parkin


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For the third bite of Christmas the treat I've made for thee is...

Sticky, spicy, special, and full of laughter and stories

This is a recipe from a lovely English lady I knew, Julia Yates, whose kitchen always smelled of something good. Julia made a supply of her special Parkin every Christmas and served this sticky, spicy treat with tea or something stronger, and always with a kind heart, stories and lots of laughter. Sadly Julia passed away a few years ago but her recipe still lives on.

Julia Yates’ Parkin
For 24 servings you will need…
350g plain flour
350g medium oatmeal or rolled oats
275g soft dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
15g baking powder
10g bicarbonate of soda
5g table salt

150g golden syrup
150g dark treacle (or molasses)
275g butter

2 large eggs

Optional extras
I added a lump of stem ginger, finely chopped, with about a tablespoon of its syrup to add to the gingeriness.

Lightly butter and base line a 30cm X 23cm baking tin and pre-heat the oven to 150°C.

Mix together the first 7 (dry) ingredients in a large bowl.


In a medium saucepan, over a low heat melt together the golden syrup, treacle and butter.

Add the 2 eggs to the dry ingredients and mix well. Then add in the contents of the saucepan and mix until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking tin and level the surface. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a cocktail stick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don't worry if it doesn't rise very much. It is meant to be sticky and brownie-like in texture.

Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares and store in an airtight container. Now the difficult bit - ignore for at least 3 days - longer if possible. During this time a wonderful alchemy takes place and the flavours become richer and deeper, though I understand perfectly if you can’t resist!

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Friday, December 8, 2017

For the second bite of Christmas the thing I've made for thee is... Boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake


Pin It For the second bite of Christmas the thing I've made for thee is... 

Boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Don't you love the Irish bent for understatement - world war was "The Emergency" and the economic catastrophe that shook the country to its foundations was "The Crisis". The Crisis came hot on the tail of the Celtic Tiger where good manners, good sense and caring went out the door for many people as soon as money swanned in. The Crisis - if it had any silver lining at all - seemed to sober us  up a bit, and to foster creativity as people sought to cope and to adjust to a very different scenario. 

One thing I've noticed over the past few years is that as people's budgets have tightened regarding gifts, the thought that goes into them has soared. Some of the loveliest Christmas gifts I've received have been made and given with love, and you cannot put a price tag on that.

I'll be making some foodie gifts this year - one of them, a family favourite: Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake. This one is for grown up friends and family. (If you are making these for kids, swap the cream liqueur for double cream). Cut into tiny bites and passed around after dinner or at the end of a run of savoury bites, these have a habit of vanishing as quickly as the Celtic Tiger did!

Package it up into Kilner jars or pretty boxes or tins and watch the recipient's face light up as they open it.
For 1 boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake, (or many tiny bites) you will need...
150g Marietta biscuits (or any Rich Tea type biscuit)
150g Digestive biscuits
100g dried sour cherries or dried cranberries (or a mixture of the two), chopped
50g toasted almonds, chopped
50g toasted walnuts, chopped
150g good quality plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g good quality milk chocolate
150mls Baileys (or a similar Irish Cream Liqueur)
100g butter, melted
25g runny honey (something floral, but not overpowering)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

50g each of dark chocolate and white chocolate for drizzling over the finished cake (optional). Oh, who am I kidding! Since when has  extra chocolate been optional?


Chop the biscuits into bits about the size of a 2c coin (or a penny) and place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the dried fruit and the nuts. 

Place the chocolate in a heatproof (preferably non-metallic) bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl doesn’t sit in the water). When the chocolate has melted, add the butter and stir gently together with a wooden spoon or spatula to avoid filling the chocolate with air bubbles. We’re not making mousse today. 

When the butter is incorporated, add the cream liqueur (or double cream if you are going for an alcohol-free version) and stir until you have a smooth, shiny lake of chocolate-y deliciousness. (It will be alarming liquid at this stage but keep the faith - it will set later in the fridge.) Finally, stir in the honey and the vanilla extract. Tip the mixture into the bowl of biscuits. Stir until every last morsel is coated with boozy chocolate lusciousness. 

Transfer to a loaf tin (if you want slices), a mixing bowl or round cake tin (if you want wedges) or a shallow pie dish or similar if you want little squares or bars,  before covering and placing in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours or overnight. You can line your chosen container with cling film if you wish but I find it just as easy to pop the container in a tray of hot water for a minute or so to melt the edges a little before turning out onto a serving tray. 

It would be utterly decadent to drizzle this little treat with even more chocolate...

 Cut into squares, wedges or bars. Share.
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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me ... 30 onion bhajis!


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Ok, it’s not yet the first day of Christmas ... and the song doesn’t quite go like that but over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing the 12 bites of Christmas – delicious little morsels, savoury and sweet, to tantalise your taste buds.

So, for the first bite of Christmas, the thing I made for thee is... an Onion Bhaji. This recipe is frighteningly easy and can be rustled up in about 20 minutes once you know what you are doing. Even better, these onion bhajis are vegetarian and gluten free. They can be prepared in advance and frozen, ready to whip out at a moment’s notice for delighted visitors.

This recipe assumes you’ll be having friends over for drinks or that you love onion bhajis as much as I do. It is easily halved 

For about 30 bites of crispy, spicy, oniony gorgeousness you will need...

4 medium onions – about the size of a tennis ball
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 tsp fennel seed
160g gram flour (chickpea flour)
40g rice flour (for added crispiness)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1-2 hot green chillies, finely chopped* (these can be left out if you’re not a fan)
30g fresh ginger, finely grated
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander leaf or flat leafed parsley
2 tablespoons of plain (unsweetened) natural yoghurt or Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

You will also need approximately 8 – 9 tablespoons cold water.

Sunflower oil for deep frying

Make up the mixture when you are ready to cook.

First, prepare the onions – peel them, then halve them top to bottom and cut into fine strips. Break up the strips with your fingers so that there are no large clumps clinging together.

Next, lightly toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat. They are done when you can start to smell toasted spices! Remove them from the heat and crush them roughly using a pestle and mortar, or the spice grinder you got last Christmas and still haven’t used, or simply chop them roughly with a knife.

Place the gram flour and rice flour in a large mixing bowl along with everything else except the water and the onions and mix to combine.

Now stir in enough cold water to make a thick batter, adding a little at a time. (I find that 8 tablespoons makes a slightly more substantial bhaji and 9 tablespoons equals more crunch – both have their merits.)

Finally add the onions and mix gently until every strand is coated with the batter.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180°C.  Also pre-heat your oven to 100°C if you are planning to eat them immediately - the first few batches need to be kept warm as you work your way through the mixture.

Take walnut sized portions of the mixture in your hands and press gently into a ball before releasing carefully into the hot oil. Avoid overloading the fryer as it will lower the temperature and the bhajis will stick to each other and also become greasy.

Careful now...

If they haven’t resurfaced after about 45 seconds, gently release from the bottom of the fryer basket with a long-handled tongs. Continue to fry until deep golden brown – about two minutes in total.

I think these ones are doing the backstroke

Drain over the fryer until any excess oil stops dripping and place the cooked bhajis on a heatproof tray lined with kitchen paper. Place the tray in the oven. Cook the remainder of the mixture, keeping the finished bhajis warm until ready to serve.

Look what I caught! 

Alternatively, let them cool on the tray.
Freeze in one layer before packing into a suitable container and reheating – from frozen – at about 160°C for about 10 – 15 minutes or until piping hot.

Independent taste tester verdict: "Really very good. Is anyone eating that last one?"
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Homemade (Vegetarian) Mincemeat - it's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!!!

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Someone else can make the mince pies !!!

Now is the time to make mincemeat so that it has time to mature before you make the mince pies. This is in the oven as I type and the house smells divine!

First published in 2010 - the snow has long since melted!

For me, the Christmas season starts as soon as the fruity, spicy, alcoholic aromas of mincemeat rise from the oven. Best of all, it is astonishingly simple to put together and the long slow cooking transforms these simple ingredients into something magical. If kept sealed, my Apple and Cranberry Mincemeat will keep for up to a year* in a cool dry place – assuming that for some strange reason you don’t scoff the lot over Christmas.

*I once found a jar of mincemeat that had moved house twice with us and was still perfectly good after three years… Darina Allen, Ballymaloe's famous stirrer-of-mould-back-into-the-jam, would approve. As she says "Trust your senses. Look at food. Smell it. Taste it - if in doubt, just have a small taste." 

Obviously, common sense must prevail.

Simple ingredients...  

A word of warning: if you make this mincemeat, you will be called upon to perform your magic every year henceforth.
For approximately 4 magical jars (1.5kg in total) you will need
... to pre-heat the oven to 100°C 
200g apple, grated
200g raisins
200g sultanas
200g currants
100g dried cranberries
200g dark brown sugar
100g mixed peel
50g walnuts, finely chopped
50g whole almonds, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
a tiny pinch of ground cloves – about one-sixteenth of a teaspoon
125g butter, cut into cubes
grated peel and juice of 1 large orange
grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons Apple Schnapps (or Brandy, or Whiskey for a more traditional flavour)

You’ll need also an additional 2 tablespoons of whatever alcohol you choose, to stir in at the end.

... magical food (that looks much prettier in jars) and tastes incredible in a pastry case 

Mix all the ingredients together in a large oven proof dish with a lid. Cover and place in the preheated oven and cook gently for 3 hours, stirring every half hour or so.

When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and allow to cool, stirring briefly every half hour until cold so that the butter remains evenly distributed.

Finally, stir a further 2 tablespoons of Apple Schnapps (or Brandy, or Whiskey) into the cold mixture before sealing in clean, dry jars. That’s it, job done. Someone else can make the mince pies!

UPDATE - The wonderful Angie Schnieder of Angie's Recipes adapted this for her slow cooker "Just made this using my slow cooker (4 hrs on low)...and it was sensational!" Angie made a few other changes, swapping out ingredients her husband doesn't like for others that he does. Make your own customisations - it's what cooking is all about!

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