Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pecan and Sour Cherry Mincemeat (and pies) - so good they ought to be banned !

Pin It
So delicious it ought to be banned!

More than a Ho Ho Ho! from a fat man in a red suit… more than a chorus of The Holly and The Ivy… Mince Pies shout “Hey everyone, Christmas is here. Par-ty!” I love them.

These little pies-with-personality have evolved a bit since they first arrived in England, brought back by returning Crusaders. Originally they contained meat, along with the dried fruits and spices we still use today.

The first written record appears in 1557 – the same year they became an endangered species. The puritan, Oliver Cromwell, decided at this point to put a damper on Christmas  - which he felt had become associated with drunkeness and gluttony. He abolished all fun and feasting associated with the event, outlawing (so legend has it) the mince pie. Christmas festivity was restored with return of the monarchy in 1660. Phew!

By Victorian times, meat had more or less vanished from the pie (although some still include beef suet to this day).

Santa is rather partial to a mince pie or two, and you are supposed to make a wish on biting into your first. Also, apparently it is bad luck to refuse the first offered to you – but I don’t think I’ve ever refused a (homemade) mince pie so that’s not something I need to fret about.

This year, the recipe is a little different to my usual one. I was in my mother’s house when a mince pie craving struck and there were a couple of interesting substitutions as she didn’t have all the ingredients. I think I like this mixture even better.

Add some zest...

For about 4 jars of Pecan and Sour Cherry mincemeat (1.5kg in total) you will need...

... to pre-heat the oven to 100°C

300g sultanas, raisins or currents (or a mixture of all 3)
300g ready-to-eat dried apricots, finely diced
100g dried sour cherries
220g honey
100g mixed peel
50g pecans, finely chopped
50g slivered almonds
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves – crushed to a powder
200g apple, grated
125g butter, cut into cubes
grated peel and juice of 1 large orange
grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons Metaxa (or Brandy, or Whiskey)

an additional 2 tablespoons of Metaxa (or whatever alcohol you choose), to stir in at the end

Measure. Mix. Mmmmm...

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.

Finally, stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of Metaxa (or Brandy, or Whiskey) into the cold mixture before sealing in clean, dry jars.

I usually have a jar or so left over (for non-seasonal mince pie cravings). I find it keeps well for up to a year in a cool dark place or in the fridge (if my sisters don't discover it).

Merry Mincepies Everyone!

To make the pies, pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Line a bun tin with shortcrust pastry. Fill with mincemeat. Cover with a pastry lid and seal the edges before punturing to allow steam to escape while cooking. My sister skips the top layer of pastry, preferring to bury the mincemeat in a layer of chopped almonds. Delicious!

(For filo pastry pies, cut into squares a little larger than the hollows of the bun tin. Brush with melted butter and add another layer, slightly off-set. Repeat with a third layer to form a rough star shape. Press into the hollows of the bun tin and fill with Christmas mincemeat. Leave the pies open or twist the edges together to make little purses.

For puff pastry pies, I cut squares, leaving enough overhang to draw the corners together in the middle before sealing the edges.)

Bake for about 20 - 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little before serving with a dusting of snowy icing sugar and a swirl of whipped cream. 


Wishing you a delicious Christmas and a tasty 2014 !

Pin It

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Good Elf – a hot cocktail to help Santa on his way

Pin It

To: Santa Claus
c/o The North Pole

Dear Santa,
Long after I stopped believing in you - and no matter how naughty I’d been - I’d wake up on Christmas morning, to find a treat-filled stocking with a Mandarin or a Satsuma hiding in the toe. I must either have (accidentally) notched up a few brownie points during the year or perhaps you continued to believe in me.
On Christmas morning the scents of orange, the log fire, and pine from the Christmas tree would intermingle to form a signature Christmas scent as I and my siblings opened our gifts, swapped our gifts, fought over our gifts, broke our gifts, and played with the packaging.
Dear Santa, I do try to be good... but I deserve to be on your naughty list this year. I made you some cupcakes in case you got a little peckish on your way around the world. However 48 fondant eyeballs, 12 fondant moustaches, 12 fondant noses, 12 fondant carrots and 24 woolly fondant bobbles later, I’m afraid all that sugar got the better of me, and  I ate your share. (Burp!)
48 eyeballs, 12 moustaches, 12 noses, 12 carrots, 24 woolly bobbles, 1 tantrum, and 1 Good Elf later...
Dear Santa, I happen to know you are partial to orange liqueur so I have created this cocktail as a little Thank You. It's an excellent and warming alternative to mulled wine, but don’t take too long in getting here though. It smells rather tempting... (Hic!)

Dear Santa, if you like this little tipple and want to recreate it at home then you will need...
Coriander simple syrup
100g runny honey (or sugar)
100ml water
3 tablespoons coriander seed, roughly crushed 

Place the honey (or sugar) and water in a small saucepan and bring to the simmering until the honey (or sugar) is completely dissolved in the water. Now add the crushed coriander seed and leave to steep overnight. Strain to remove the seeds and keep in a screw top jar or bottle. (This will keep for at least a month in the fridge). 

Santa’s Little Helper
40mls Cointreau (or other triple sec-style orange liqueur)
1 – 2 teaspoons coriander simple syrup (see recipe above)
80mls fresh Mandarin or Satsuma juice
80mls fresh water
1 slice of orange stuck with 5 cloves 

In a tall (preferably heat proof*) glass, mix the Cointreau and the simple syrup. Put the orange juice and water in a small saucepan and bring to simmering. Add to the glass and float the slice of orange with cloves on top. 

*Santa, if your glass is not heat proof, place a metal spoon in the glass before adding the hot liquid. 

Your Good Health (or Good Elf!) and a Merry Christmas!
Pin It

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Butternut Squash Soup with Sumac and Coriander Seed – good thinking, sunshine!

Pin It

I had been looking to try out the jar of sumac that I’d found recently. While I searched for divine inspiration, a ray of sunshine obligingly blazed through the window and lit up a butternut squash that had been lingering in the vegetable basket for the past few weeks. Good thinking, sunshine! This creamy, filling and surprisingly healthy soup is the result. It tastes even better the next day. Alchemy at work!

For 6-8 bowls of sunshine, you will need...
1.5kg butternut squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sumac*
1 teaspoon coriander seed, finely crushed
½ teaspoon salt 

a further 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, peeled of stringy fibres and finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
1.25 litres chicken stock or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley 

I love the aroma released when the coriander seeds are crushed
- definitely worth the slight effort it takes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C

Using a sharp knife cut the butternut squash into quarters. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Rub the quarters with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place in a shallow roasting tray, skin side down. Sprinkle evenly with the sumac, coriander seed and salt. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until tender. Remove and set aside until cool enough to handle. Then, scoop out the tender flesh. Discard the skin. 

Roasted sunshine!

Meanwhile, heat another 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook gently without colouring until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for a further minute then add the roasted flesh from the butternut squash, followed by the stock. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Liquidize the contents of the saucepan – a stick blender is perfect for this. Taste before adding salt and black pepper according to your own taste. 

Sprinkle with the chopped parsley before serving.  

*Used in Middle Eastern and some Mediterranean cuisine, sumac is a berry that is usually sold dried and crushed to a coarse powder. If you can’t find sumac, a ½ teaspoon of grated lemon zest works well as a substitute in this soup.
Pin It

Friday, November 15, 2013

Eve’s Pudding – tempting ...

Pin It

If Adam was around today, I think Eve would be hard-pushed to find an apple to tempt him.
I grew up next to an orchard. I have no idea what varieties I - and my equally delinquent siblings - scrumped*, but there were a lot of tempting fruits. They ranged from tiny sour crab apples - perfect for jelly - through sweet pink-fleshed varieties, to enormous freckly cookers that needed just a touch of sugar and a little spice to bring out their best.

The storeroom at the back of the house smelled cidery in the autumn, with boxes of carefully wrapped (more honestly acquired) apples. This is not a smell the supermarket offerings can recreate.
I am racking my brains to think of varieties beyond Braeburn, Gala, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Fuji, Cox’s Pippin and the (pretty good) cooker, Bramley.  They all blow my least favourite, Golden Delicious, out of the orchard in terms of flavour and texture, but still... would Adam risk being chucked out of the Garden of Eden for one of these? I’m inclined to think not.
I was delighted to receive a bag of homegrown apples from a friend recently. They were an old variety – Reinetta. I’m not sure of the exact strain, but the variety is believed to have originated in France in the 16th century so it’s got a decent pedigree, and if it has survived all those years, it must have some commendable characteristics.
It does. Intensely sweet and sharp, with a dense, creamy flesh, and not too juicy, these heritage apples were perfect for this fat-free dessert.

Eve’s Pudding is best served straight from the oven as the sponge topping sinks a little as it cools.

For 8 individual, tempting portions, you will need...

Stewed Apple Filling
500g (prepared weight) of cooking apples (Granny Smith or Bramley will do if you haven’t got a friend with a heritage apple tree)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
50g caster sugar
2 tablespoons water

Sponge Topping
2 large eggs
50g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
60g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

To serve
2 teaspoons icing sugar mixed with ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
Good vanilla ice cream or home-made custard (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C
First make the filling: peel, core, and slice the apples and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent them from discolouring. Place them in a medium saucepan with the sugar and water. Cover and cook gently over a medium heat for about 8 minutes or until soft. Divide between 8 small pie dishes or ovenproof bowls. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile make the sponge topping: place the eggs, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and, with an electric whisk, beat until the mixture is thick and creamy and more than doubled in volume. To check if it is thick enough, stop the beaters and lift them from the mixture. Any mixture dropping from the beaters should remain on the surface for a moment or two.

Mix the flour, baking powder and cinnamon together and sift, about a quarter at a time, into the egg mixture, folding in between additions. (Folding in avoids overworking the batter, keeping it light and airy.To fold in, use a large metal spoon and cut through the centre of the batter. Move the spoon across the bottom of the bowl, and back up the side and across the top bringing some of the mixture from bottom to top. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Keep folding the mixture and turning the bowl until the flour is incorporated into the batter.)

Divide the mixture between the bowls of cooled stewed apple. Place the bowls on a shallow baking tray or roasting dish and bake in the pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes or until well risen and golden.

Remove from the oven and sift the icing sugar and cinnamon over the top before serving as soon as possible.

This fat-free dessert is even more tempting with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the top. Just saying...

*scrump – a juvenile rite of passage which involves raiding orchards, and develops such useful skills as outrunning fearsome guard dogs, emergency tree/wall/fence-climbing and river/ditch leaping – all very Enid Blyton, and wonderful exercise.

Pin It

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Marmalade and Almond Cake – has a delicious Scottish accent

Pin It

What images does Scotland conjure up for you? The mournful wail of bagpipes? The Loch Ness monster? The highland fling? Men in kilts? Brave Heart? Tartan? Scotch whisky? Shortbread? Haggis? Billy Connolly? That delicious but often incomprehensible accent?
For me, it’s marmalade. You see, after watching the Hairy Bikers visit the birthplace of marmalade in Dundee, I got an irresistible craving for thick-cut, whisky-laced, homemade marmalade.
 Do you have any idea how much marmalade a mere 6 oranges can make? It was like the fairy tale of the magic porridge pot! I can see myself having to work my way through toast and marmalade for breakfast for the next ten years... or asking you guys for recipes that use marmalade as an ingredient... Any ideas?
I’ll start the ball rolling with this easy cake.

For 1 x 2lb loaf, you will need...
125g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
¼ teaspoon almond extract
100g thick cut marmalade 

Marmalade Glaze
75g thick cut marmalade
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice 

Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper or a loaf tin liner.
In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest until the mixture is light and fluffy. 

Add the beaten egg, a little at a time, mixing between additions until combined. (If the mixture curdles, the finished cake will just be a little heavier - no big deal.)  

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and bicarbonate of soda and add the salt. Add to the mixture in the bowl, a little at a time, beating until just combined. Finally, add the orange juice, almond extract, and marmalade and mix until just combined. 

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes. When the cake is cooked through, it should spring back when pressed lightly with a finger. A cocktail stick or skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean—with no mixture clinging to it. Leave in the tin while you make the glaze. 

To make the glaze, place the marmalade in a small saucepan with the orange juice and heat gently until the marmalade has melted. Fork the stands of peel onto the cake, arranging them down the centre. Drizzle the liquid over the cake, using a pastry brush if necessary to coat every centimetre with delicious orange syrup. Leave to cool in the tin. Perfect with a cuppa!

There! That’s takes care of 175g of the stuff. Just another 175 million grams to go... help!
Pin It

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Camembert and Walnut Bites – accentuate the positive...

Pin It

I want to love Camembert. It looks very charming on a cheeseboard, instantly adding ze strrrrong Frrrrrrench accent. And it is always up for a picnic – just add a fresh baguette and a bottle of vin - et voila! What’s not to love? Well...
Camembert is often described as buttery and nutty – I like that bit. But to me, there is a cabbage-y tang lurking in its depths. I’m not the greatest fan of cabbage at the best of times, so why would I want it in cheese... given I’m not even the greatest fan of cheese at the best of times and will easily find an excuse to skip straight to dessert.
However... as the song says, you’ve got to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive (add buttery pastry, a touch of honey, and some walnuts) ... e-li-min-ate the negative (heat and a smidgen of rosemary seems to minimise the cabbage-y note), et voila! This I can love.

For approximately 25 party-sized bites you will need...
... a 7cm empanada press (widely and generally quite cheaply available from most kitchen stores), or a little patience.

50g walnuts
125g Camembert, cut into rough chunks
½ teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
25g runny honey
500g good quality all-butter puff pastry 

a little cold water to seal the pastries 

a little beaten egg to glaze the pastries 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C 

First, blitz the walnuts in a food processor until reduced to large crumbs. Add the camembert and rosemary and process until reduced to a moist crumbly mixture. Add the honey and blitz to combine with the other ingredients.

If you haven't got a food processor, you will need about 5 minutes and a good chopping action

Roll out the puff pastry (or buy ready-rolled) to a thickness of about 3mm. Using the cutter side of the empanada press, stamp out circles until you have used up all the pastry. (If you don’t have an empanada press, use a 7cm round scone cutter instead.)  

Using lightly floured hands, take approximately half a teaspoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. (This might seem a stingy amount but - trust me - any more will leak from the pastries as they cook.) Repeat until you have the same amount of cheese balls as pastry circles.

Be stingy with the filling unless you want accidental camembert and walnut crisps 

Place a pastry circle on the empanada press and place a cheese ball in the centre. Dampen the edges of the pastry with a little cold water and close the empanada press, gently sealing the cheese inside a half moon. (If you are doing this without an empanada maker, fold the pastry over the cheese ball, pressing the dampened edges together, pinching them together between thumb and index finger.) Repeat until you have approximately 25 half moons made. Kids love helping with this bit.

(I often make them to this point then freeze in a single layer to cook at a later date, straight from the freezer. If cooking from frozen, you’ll need to give them an extra minute or two in the oven.) 

Place on a baking tray, approximately 3cm apart to allow them to puff up. Bake in the pre-heated oven until risen and golden – about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly on a wire rack before handing round with drinks. Best served warm.

Variation: swap the honey for the same amount of apricot jam, or cranberry jelly. Both go terrifically well with Camembert. 

Pin It

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Piri Piri... Peri Peri... Pili Pili Chicken – Some like it hot !

Pin It

It is Piri Piri? Or Peri Peri? Or Pili Pili ? I lean towards Piri Piri, but whatever you prefer to call it, this spicy chicken dish, which originated in Portugal’s former African colonies, has been a huge hit world wide - as evidenced by the success of Nando’s restaurant chain. I’ve never tasted Nando’s version, which apparently goes from a wussy version that barely registers on the Scoville Scale, to a “throat-scorching” extra h-h-hot!

There’s not much preparation to this easy recipe, however you will need time for the chicken to wallow in all those lovely flavours – 24 hours if possible. It's worth it though, for a succulent, tasty chicken that is so easy to portion up.
The recipe below is how I like it – with the heat somewhere between 10,000 – 20,000 Scovilles so I can still taste the other flavours in the dish. The beauty of this marinade is that you can tweak the ingredients to how you like it. Use African Bird’s Eye Chillies to ramp it up to 100,000+ Scovilles if you like it hot.

For 1 spicy chicken, feeding about 4 people, you will need...
... a food processor
Piri Piri Marinade
100mls extra virgin olive oil
30mls cider vinegar
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 fat cloves of garlic
2 red chillies, stalks removed, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon coriander seed, crushed to a powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon of sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
the juice and finely grated zest of half a lemon
the juice of half a lime 

1 chicken weighing approximately 1.5kg, spatchcocked* 

Time – at least 12 hours, but preferably 24 hours. 

Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a food processer and blend until combined into a smooth liquid.

Place the spatchcocked chicken in a large Ziploc-style bag or non-metal container and pour in the marinade. Seal and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight, turning occasionally to make sure the marinade gets a chance to reach all parts of the chicken.
Pale and interesting? Nah!

 When ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Place the chicken in a shallow roasting tin and roast for 35 - 45 minutes, or until cooked through. To test for doneness, pierce the thickest part of the thigh and if the juices run clear, with no trace of pink, then it’s cooked.
Looking so much better with a tan !

I’m serving this with a carrot and orange salad and baked potatoes.

*A spatchcocked chicken is prepared as follows: 

Sit the chicken on its breast and, using a heavy duty kitchen scissors or poultry shears, cut down both sides of the backbone, and remove it. Open the chicken out and, using a heavy knife, cut into the cartilage in the centre of the chicken, until the knife reaches the breastbone. Turn the chicken over and gently press down to flatten it out.
Pin It

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chicken ‘Kindorf’ Salad – Waldorf, kind of !

Pin It
Have you ever heard of William Arthur Ward before today? Me neither. However, you will probably know some of his words. He’s a guy frequently quoted by bumper stickers and fridge magnets and you’ll have seen this quote at some point in your life:
Every person has the power to make others happy. Some do it simply by entering a room, others by leaving the room.” So true.
For me, it totally applies to the grapes in Waldorf Salad. I know they are a classic ingredient of this classic salad but they have the power to make me happy by leaving the salad well alone.
Don’t worry. Several other non-classic ingredients that have the power to make me happy have entered the salad, and more than made up for the absence of grapes.
For Chicken Salad for 2 – 3 happy people you will need...
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
a pinch of salt 

1 large cooked chicken breast, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 red-skinned dessert apple (I used Fuji), skin on, diced
1 stick of celery, peeled of stringy bits, finely sliced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
15g almonds, roughly chopped
25g walnuts, roughly chopped
25g sultanas
35g ready-to-eat-apricots, snipped into sultana-sized pieces

Simply mix the ingredients for the dressing together until combined. Then add the salad ingredients, stirring them through the dressing until coated with the creamy sauce. Instant happiness!
(This also makes a great sandwich filling.)  

Pin It