Tuesday, December 24, 2013

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

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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 !

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

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

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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!
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Sunday, December 8, 2013

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

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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.
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