Christmas

Post Christmas notes

Happy New Year!

This was the Christmas present I received from my children.

postcard.jpg

This made me so happy – the promise of a delicious sounding meal is the perfect present for me. I am particularly intrigued by the ‘salted caramel light bulb’ – the idea of my 6 year old son who has obviously been watching too many reality cooking competitions.


Despite my last post (where I was very grumpy about Christmas) the festive spirit did eventually kick in and I actually ended up doing quite a bit of seasonal cooking. Mainly with my children as a way to keep them entertained during the holidays.

You will most probably not be interested in reading about these recipes now that Christmas is well and truly over. But I am just making a note of them ready for next year – because the main user of this blog is me!

Scroll down to see recipes for yule log, a gingerbread house and a chocolate salami (or just look at the photos).

Or ignore and wait for my next post which will probably feature something healthy.

Yule log

yule log.jpg

I’ve been making this for a couple of years now but for some reason haven’t posted the recipe. The cake part comes from my trusty Peyton and Byrne British Baking cookbook. The icing is Nigella’s and it is the best chocolate icing I have ever tasted. I’m not a fan of yule log but it always goes down well with the chocolate lovers in my family and makes a good Christmas Day dessert alternative for those crazy people who don’t like Christmas pudding.

For the cake

  • A tablespoon of melted butter for greasing
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 130g of caster sugar, plus 35g
  • 100g of self-raising flour, plus some for dusting
  • 25g of cocoa powder
  • A pinch of cream of tartar
  • A little icing sugar for dusting

For the icing

  • 175g of dark chocolate
  • 250g of icing sugar
  • 225g of soft butter
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180oC.

Brush a 33cm x 23cm swiss roll tin (or shallow baking tin) with melted butter then line with baking parchment. Brush the parchment lightly all over with melted butter and then dust lightly with flour tipping out the excess.

Beat together the egg yolks and 130g of sugar until pale and creamy.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder and fold into the egg/sugar mixture.

In a separate, scrupulously clean, glass bowl whisk the egg whites with 35g of sugar and the pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

Stir a third of the whites into the egg yolk mixture to slacken the mix, then gently fold in the remainder with a metal spoon taking care not to knock out too much air from the mix.

Pour into the prepared tin and spread out as evenly as you can with a palette knife.

Bake for 15 minutes until the cake has risen and is springy to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar and place a layer of clingfilm on top followed by a chopping board. Tip the cake out onto the chopping board, then take the short end and roll up incorporating the clingfilm into the roll. Leave to cool completely all rolled up.

For the icing, melt the chocolate in a microwave or in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Let it cool a little.

Mix together the soft butter and icing sugar until pale in colour. Then add the melted chocolate and the vanilla essence. Beat until smooth.

Unroll the cake and spread with an even layer of icing. Then cover the outside of the log with icing and use a skewer to make log like marks.

Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

NOTE: For a less rich cake, make half the amount of icing and fill the centre of the roll with whipped cream saving the chocolate icing for just the outside.


 

Mary Berry’s Gingerbread House

gingerbread-house-1

I once made a gingerbread house from a kit. It was fun to make but inedible. The gingerbread itself was vile – stale and tasteless.

Elizabeth and I had a lot of fun making this one from scratch but it wasn’t easy. She made the gingerbread mix but I did the rolling and cutting out using this template:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/christmasbakeoff/gingerbread_house.pdf

Do follow Mary’s advice about rolling between baking parchment it makes it much easier. Also remember to trim the gingerbread after cooking using the template as a guide as it will have spread a bit. I forgot to do this but it would have been easier if I had. I had a lot of gingerbread left over which I made into biscuits. The gingerbread itself is absolutely delicious.

Next year I’m going off piste and designing my own template.

For the gingerbread

  • 375g of butter
  • 300g of dark muscovado sugar
  • 150g of golden syrup
  • 900g of plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons of ground ginger

For the icing

  • 3 egg whites
  • 675g of icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 teaspoons of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180oC fan.

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together in a large pan. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the melted butter mixture, stir it in and, when cool enough to handle, knead to a stiff dough.

Divide the mixture into five equally-sized pieces, cut one of these pieces in half (so you have six pieces in total). Roll each piece out between two sheets of baking parchment until it is about ¾cm thick. Using the templates as a guide cut out all the sections and slide onto baking trays before baking.

For the pieces with windows remove from the oven after 7-8 minutes, sprinkle boiled sweets (crushed with a pestle and mortar) into the window holes and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes until the sweets have melted.

For the other pieces (without windows) bake for 10-12 minutes.

You will need to do this in batches unless you have a very large oven and several baking trays.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then trim around the templates again to give clean, sharp edges. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. You will not be able to remove the windowed pieces from the baking parchment until the windows have cooled and hardened completely.

For the icing, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Using a wooden spoon or a hand-held electric mixer on slow speed, add the icing sugar a tablespoonful at a time. Stir in the lemon juice and beat the icing until it is very stiff and white and stands up in peaks.

On a cake board spread a layer of icing thinly over the surface to stick the house on to and to create a snow effect.

Use the icing to glue all the pieces together and assemble the house. It is helpful to have another pair of hands but the mixture sticks and hardens very quickly so this part is not as tricky at it looks. Mary suggests using cocktail sticks to hold the roof in place but I didn’t find this necessary.

I don’t believe in being prescriptive about the decoration. Buy lots of sweets and chocolate buttons and be creative. Use a little blob of icing to glue each sweet to the gingerbread and pipe icing around the edges of the house if you want a neat look.

For younger children just smear the icing all over the surface and then let them add sweets in any way they like. Try to let go of any urge to be neat and tidy and buy extra sweets as for everyone that goes on the house another will go in the mouth.

gingerbread.jpg


 

Nigella’s Chocolate Salami

chocolate salami.jpg

This is good fun – it’s basically a chocolate biscuit fridge cake doing a very good impression of a giant meat salami. It flummoxed everyone in my family. It keeps very well in the fridge so it can be made well in advance. My husband is still ploughing through ours and will not entertain the idea of throwing it out.

  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate
  • 250g of amaretti or rich tea biscuits (I used rich tea because I do not like almond flavourings)
  • 100g of softened butter
  • 150g of caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of amaretto liqueur (I used brandy instead)
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 75g of almonds, roughly chopped
  • 75g of hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 50g of pistachios, roughly chopped
  • Icing sugar to decorate

Melt the chocolate either in a microwave (which is what I do) or in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool a little.

Smash up the biscuits in a polythene bag with a rolling pin. You want a rough texture not dust.

In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar and add the eggs one by one. Then mix in the liqueur. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.

Sift the cocoa powder into the melted chocolate and then stir the whole lot into the egg mixture.

Finally add the crushed biscuits and nuts and mix thoroughly to make sure that everything is covered with chocolate. Put in the fridge for half an hour to firm up a bit.

Now for the shaping. Lay a couple of sheets of cling film onto your work surface and tip the chocolate mixture into the middle.

Shape the mixture into a rough sausage shape (approximately 30 cm long) and then roll up with cling film and twist the ends of the clingfilm to tighten. Then put it in the fridge for to set for at least 6 hours but overnight would be better.

Dust your work surface with icing sugar. Take the salami out of the fridge and tie some string onto the twisted clingfilm of one end. Trim away as much cling film as you can but leave the two twisted ends. Dust the whole salami and your hands with icing sugar and then string up the salami – this is tricky to describe but this video is helpful. Finish by tying the twisted end with string. Roll up in tin foil or a new layer of clingfilm until you are ready to serve.

Serve fridge cold.

Beef tagine

beeftagine2

I’m a bit late to the game on the ras el hanout front. This ingredient has always seemed a bit too ‘Yotam Ottolenghi’ for me (meaning that it can’t be found easily in suburban Nottingham). But Tesco now stock it in their own brand spice range – a sure sign that it has entered the realms of commonplace.

Anyway, my sister gave me a little bag of it to try recently and so I set about finding a recipe.

Ras el hanout is a North African spice mix which translates as ‘head of the shop’ – as in the best spices the shop keeper has to offer. I have no idea exactly what was in my little unmarked bag, but according to Wikipedia, cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dried ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn and paprika are all commonly used.

I’m not sure why this recipe (a bastardised version of one of Jamie Oliver’s*) uses additional cinnamon, cumin, paprika and ginger if the ras el hanout is likely to include these already. Purists would probably insist of making up their own spice mix from scratch in any case, as with garam masala, curry powder, jerk seasoning, five spice and the like.

All I can say is that the final dish was delicious and very easy (if time consuming) to make.

When I was frying off the beef my son asked me if I was making mince pies. I can see why he said this because the cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in the spice mix does make it smell very Christmassy. I’m being a complete Grinch about Christmas at the moment so this is probably about as festive as my recipes on this blog will get this year.

*the original recipe can’t be trusted in any case. The comments section on Jamie’s website bought my attention to the fact that he uses teaspoons of spices in the TV series but tablespoons on the web.

Beef tangine

Serves 4-6

  • 1kg lean stewing steak cut into large (approx. 2.5 cm sq) chunks

For the marinade

  • 1 tablespoon of ras el hanout
  • 2 teaspoons of ground or whole cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

To cook

  • A little oil
  • 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • A knorr vegetable stock pot (or equivalent vegetable stock cube)
  • 1 ½ cans of water
  • 100g of dried apricots cut into quarters

To serve

  • Toasted flaked almonds
  • A good handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • Couscous (recipe here)

Place the beef in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients and mix them in with a wooden spoon or massage them in with your hands. Cover and place in the fridge for 12-24 hours.

When you are ready to cook, heat a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat and brown the meat all over. It is worth taking the time to make sure you get a really good dark brown colour on both sides as this helps with the final flavour. You will probably need to do this in a couple of batches depending on the size of your frying pan.

Fry off the onion in the same pan until brown.

Place the beef and onion in a lidded casserole dish along with the can of tomatoes, apricots, chickpeas and stock pot/cube. Cover with 1 and a half tins of water (using the tin from either the tomatoes or chickpeas to measure). Bring the mixture to the boil on the hob and then cover.

Place in an oven preheated to 180oC for 1 hour.

Then reduce the temperature to 150oc and cook for a further 2 hours or until the meat is tender.

Make sure to check the pot at regular intervals (about every 30 mins) to give it a little stir and add a little extra water if the sauce is becoming too dry.

Just before serving mix in a good handful of chopped, fresh coriander.

Serve over a steaming bowl of cous cous or rice and garnish with more coriander and lightly toasted flaked almonds.


PS. If, unlike me, you are feeling the yuletide spirit then you may like to try one of my Christmas recipes from previous years.

Bread sauce
Easy chocolate biscuits (decorated for Christmas)
Homemade mincemeat
Christmas fudge
Mincemeat filo cigars and no nonsense mincemeat tart
Christmas pudding
Prawn cocktail

Pumpkin pie

pumpkin pie with pumpkin 2
I’m a total Grinch when it comes to Halloween. I will carve a pumpkin (if pushed) but I was bought up to believe that ‘trick or treating’ is evil and the rest of the hype (a whole aisle of flammable costumes in Tesco for example) just makes me want to find a dark hole to climb into.

We do grow pumpkins because they are easy to grow at a time when not much else is happening on the allotment, but this year they were small and not great for carving. The upside was that they tasted amazing – the flesh was sweet and fresh, almost melon-like. My children happily gobbled it up raw.

With these delicious insides I decided to try making a pumpkin pie. I never liked it as a child but I thought I’d give it another go. So I googled for a recipe and this is an amalgamation of those that used ingredients I already had in my cupboard.

I stole the idea of a biscuit base from Good Food online (because I’m rubbish at pastry). Most recipes seemed to use evaporated milk but I only had condensed, so I found one that used that instead. The result was a pumpkin pie that was perfectly edible – rather like an egg custard tart with pizazz. Ben said it tasted Christmassy (that will be the cloves) so I might freeze some of the pumpkin puree and make this over Christmas.

Anyway, I know that I’ve missed the boat in posting this recipe now that Halloween (and Bonfire Night for that matter) have passed, but I wanted to record what I did ready for next year.

Pumpkin pie

At least 12 servings

For the crust

  • 200g digestive biscuits (approx. 13 biscuits), crushed (or you can use ginger biscuits)
  • 50g butter, melted

For the filling

  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves (or you could use nutmeg if you dislike cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 425g pumpkin puree (see below if you don’t already have this to hand)
  • 397g can sweetened condensed milk

To make the pumpkin puree, first cut a medium pumpkin (or two small ones) into large wedges and remove the seeds with a spoon but don’t peel. Put the wedges into a large baking tray, cover with foil and roast in the oven for 1 hour at 180oC (the pumpkin flesh should be soft and you can test this with a skewer, if it goes through with no resistance then it’s done). Leave to cool and then scoop out the flesh from the skin and puree in a food processor. This will probably make more than the quantity required for this recipe.

For the base, smash up the biscuits either with a rolling pin in a plastic bag (my preferred method), or in a food processor.

Add the melted butter and mix until well combined. Tip into a 23cm, loose-bottomed tart tin. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture evenly over the base and up the sides of the tin. Put in the fridge and chill for at least half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 17oC.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together until smooth.

Remove the crust from the fridge and place on a baking tray in the middle of the oven. Pull out the shelf and carefully fill with the pumpkin mixture, pouring it right to the top. Try not to slosh the filling over the sides as you push the shelf back in.

Bake for 40 minutes until set.

Cool in the tin to room temperature then chill completely in the fridge.

Serve cold.

Pumpkins sinister

pumpkin pie slice

Easy chocolate biscuits

easy chocolate biscuits

I bake these simple chocolate biscuits when I want to make my husband and son happy because they are both of the opinion that all sweet treats should involve chocolate in some form.

But this week I’ve been making them for fundraising volunteers (to spur them on with school Christmas Fayre preparations) and builders (so that they hurry up with the work on my husband’s new shop and give me some real employment in the new year). They’ve proven to be very popular.

I think they would also make brilliant Christmas biscuits if you used a Christmassy cutter and some plain white piped icing for decoration.

Chocolate biscuits

Makes about 20

  • 225g of self-raising flour
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 100g of margarine
  • 5 tablespoons of milk
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • Some melted dark chocolate for drizzling (optional)

Heat the oven to 180oC fan.

Line two flat baking trays with parchment.

Mix the flour, sugar and cocoa powder then rub in the margarine until you have fine breadcrumbs.

Add the milk and vanilla extract and bring together with your hands to form a soft dough.

Knead lightly on a floured surface and then roll out to 1/2 cm thick and cut into 7 cm rounds using a cutter. You can make them smaller if you prefer (and this will obviously make more).

Place on baking trays and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from the baking trays and leave to cool on a wire rack.

For the optional chocolate drizzle, melt some dark chocolate slowly in the microwave or over a bain marie (a bowl over a pan of simmering water). Drizzle the chocolate over the biscuits and put in the fridge for 10 minutes to harden.

Or you can forget the dark chocolate drizzle and instead sandwich with Philadelphia and dark chocolate spread, they look like Oreo cookies and are in the same vein as my cheat’s chocolate cheesecake.

Preparing for Christmas – homemade mincemeat

mincemeat

If you can stand to start thinking about Christmas this early then please read on. If you can’t then just ignore this post or I’ll really annoy you.

About this time last year I posted Delia’s brilliant Christmas pudding recipe and in case you missed it here’s the link – A job for a rainy weekend – Christmas pudding. Please note that I’ve amended the post to include figures for making smaller quantities. This year I need one large and one small pudding (3/4 of the recipe) so I rather painfully did the maths (never my strong point).

If you’re a glutton for punishment, like me, and are going to make your own Christmas pudding, then it makes sense to make homemade mincemeat at the same time because many of the ingredients are the same. I made my own mincemeat for the first time last year (again from a Delia recipe) and it was fantastic. Once you’ve bought all the ingredients it’s really simple but I would recommend chopping the apple using a mini chopper or food processor as this did take a while by hand.

Homemade mincemeat

Makes 6 x 350ml jars (according to Delia on-line) OR enough for two large gherkin jars, one chutney jar and one small jar of mayonnaise (as pictured)

  • 450g cooking apples, peeled cored and finely chopped
  • 225g shredded suet (I used vegetarian suet)
  • 350g raisins
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 225g mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 oranges, grated rind and juice
  • 2 lemons, grated rind and juice
  • 50g whole almonds cut into slivers
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons of mixed spice
  • Half a nutmeg grated
  • 6 tablespoons of brandy

Simply mix all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a very large mixing bowl.

Cover with a cloth and leave for 12 hours.

Cover the bowl with foil and place the mincemeat in an oven heated to 110oC for 3 hours.

Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then stir in the brandy.

Spoon into sterilised jars then place in a cool dark cupboard until needed. I think you could actually use it straight away as I had a sneaky spoonful and it was divine. Delia says she has kept hers for up to 3 years but I know mine won’t last that long because I love it too much.

NOTE: For recipes that use mincemeat see my post Christmas is coming – two ways with mincemeat. Last year I also experimented with an apple and mincemeat crumble (I just added a couple of spoonfuls of mincemeat to the cooked apple before adding the topping) and it was very good indeed.

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo

spanishchickenrice

I don’t know about you but I always get terribly confused in the period between Christmas and New Year. Today I’ve got absolutely no idea what day of the week it is – all I know is that New Year’s Eve is tomorrow (but only because my friend just phoned to remind me of the party details). Football matches are on Thursdays and Sundays, not Saturdays as usual. Even the order of the day is a blur as we’re not eating proper meals at normal breakfast, lunch and dinner times but rather grazing throughout the day on bits of cheese, chocolate and other rubbish like small cold sausages. And then there’s the drinking, not as much as when we were childless, but at least a little every day and not just wine and beer but whisky, champagne, port and other headache inducing beverages. It’s sort of fun but then part of me (the grown up part) is desperate to get back to some sort of normality on January 2nd.

For those of you who are as disorientated as me, but who would like to eat at least one proper meal over the Christmas period, I offer you this delicious and terribly easy dish. It has the comfort factor of a risotto but with absolutely no stirring.

This is for my very good friends Claire and Ed who I fed well and then poisoned with Speaker Bercow’s whisky. I hope you are feeling better now.

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo

Serves 4

  • 3 large skinless chicken breasts cut into quarters
  • 1 sweet pointed red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 100g chorizo, cut into smallish chunks
  • ½ an onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • ½-1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
  • 860ml chicken stock
  • 250g paella rice
  • 1 large tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Take the pieces of chicken and marinade with ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon of salt, half the juice of one lemon, a dash of olive oil and a few twists of the pepper mill. Cover and leave in the fridge for the flavours to mingle. I like to do this for at least an hour but if you’re in a rush then you could leave for less.

Heat the oven to 180oC fan.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a broad shallow pan (mine is a cast iron and oven proof Le Creuset 26cm in diameter). When the oil is very hot add the chicken and brown on all sides. You don’t need to cook the chicken through but you do need to make sure that it is a nice golden colour. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the peppers and chorizo to the same pan and cook until the fat starts to run out of the chorizo and the peppers start to soften. Then add the onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and chilli flakes. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Pour in the rice being careful to distribute it evenly around the pan. Then add the chicken pieces evenly over the top. At this stage the pan will be very full so be careful not to spill the stock as you transfer it to the oven. Cook uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve scatter with chopped parsley and the remaining lemon juice. Don’t miss out this part as it really elevates the dish.

Note: If you are feeling fancy and have access to nice fresh seafood (which is unfortunately difficult for us in Nottingham being about as far away from the sea as you can get) then you could add prawns, squid or mussels before putting in the oven.

Christmas fudge

Fudge - main photo

Less than a week now until Christmas Day and as usual I’m running around like a maniac trying to finish off my shopping and make a start on the dreaded wrapping. And, as is tradition in our house, we have to put aside one evening in the week before Christmas for fudge making. My husband dreads the day because it involves some serious physical labour (in the form of furious hand mixing which never fails to give you a dead arm). That said, this recipe is worth the effort because it’s an absolute godsend – the perfect present for those hard-to-buy-for uncles, fathers, brothers-in-laws and (if you want to be a creep) teachers.

Whilst I call this recipe fudge it is really more like Scots tablet. It is not soft and chewy like a lot of fudge but has a grainy texture with a slight bite and it melts just wonderfully in your mouth.

Fudge

Makes enough for 6 large bags

  • 175ml milk, semi skimmed is fine
  • 175g butter, cut into cubes
  • 800g caster sugar
  • 1 x 397g tin of condensed milk

You will need a large aluminium pot with high sides. Mine is from Ikea.

Line a baking tin (18 x 27 cm, or one with the same area) with tin foil and then cling film and place in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.

Put the milk and butter into the pan and melt over a medium heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

When the sugar has dissolved turn the heat up and when it is beginning to simmer add the condensed milk.

Stir the mixture continuously with a wooden spoon while you simmer for about 9-10 minutes or until the mixture turns a light amber colour. I do this on instinct but there is a sugar thermometer on my Christmas list so that next year I can check that it has reached 116oC.

Now for the laborious part – remove the mixture from the heat and place on a damp cloth. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to lighten in colour and thicken up. You need to be able to pour the mix into the tin so don’t let it thicken up too much. This usually takes about 5 minutes and you will need a team mate to help you mix in relays otherwise your arm will fall off.

Pour the mix into your lined and frozen tin. Leave to cool at room temperature and then place in the fridge until set.

To cut up the fudge you will need a really sharp knife. Aim for neat squares but in reality the brittle texture  means you will get shards of all different sizes and lots of crumbs (save the crumbs – they are delicious on ice cream or just spooned directly into your mouth when you need a sugar rush to get through the Christmas chaos).

I put my fudge in clear presentation bags (from Lakeland) and tie with some Christmas coloured ribbon. I then store in the fridge until ready to give away and have to try very hard not to steal a piece or two.

NOTE: The hazardous boiling of sugar means that this is not one to get young children involved in. Mine however will very happily eat it.

Boiling the fudge mix. Make sure you stir continuously otherwise it will catch on the bottom of the pan.

Boiling the fudge mix. Make sure you stir continuously otherwise it will catch on the bottom of the pan.

Remove the fudge from the heat and beat until it thickens. This is my slave/husband vigorously stirring.

Remove the fudge from the heat and beat until it thickens. This is my slave/husband vigorously stirring.

The prepared tin lined with foil and clingfilm.

The prepared tin lined with foil and clingfilm.

Fudge cooling before going in the fridge.

Fudge cooling before going in the fridge.

Cutting up.

Cutting up.

In squares/shards.

Finished ready for bagging.

Christmas is coming – two ways with mincemeat

mincemeat filo cigars

I got told off by my husband this week when I attempted to play our special Christmas mix tape in the car. “Too early” he cries, “I’ll be sick of Christmas before it’s even here at this rate”. I sort of get his point, but this week it’s the school nativity and Christmas Fayre and so I’m forced to get in the Christmas mood whether I like it or not (for the sake of the kids of course).

The good thing about this is that I have an excuse to finally try out my homemade mincemeat. I used a new recipe this year so I want to see how it tastes. I’m not great at traditional mince pies but I have these two recipes in my collection which make nice alternatives. The first uses ready-made filo and is a lighter option to shortcrust pastry. The second is a giant slab of a tart which you cut into squares once it has baked meaning that you don’t have to faff around with pastry cutters. It also has a buttery, crumbly topping which is just divine.

It does seem a bit odd ball to make your own mincemeat and then buy ready-made pastry. Of course you can make your own pastry if you prefer. And if you think I’m a glutton for punishment making my own mincemeat then buy it in a jar – it works just fine.

By the way, the homemade mincemeat was great – definitely the best recipe I’ve tried and not very onerous. Not surprisingly it came from good old Delia (yet again). I might blog it next year once I’ve given it another go.

Mincemeat filo cigars

Makes 12

  • 6 ready-made filo sheets cut into 4 x 12.5 cm squares, making 24 in total
  • 40g butter, melted
  • A small  jar of mincemeat
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

Lay a square of filo pastry onto a dry work surface and brush with melted butter. Take another filo sheet and lay this on top.

Spoon a thin line of mincemeat in a diagonal line across the square, then fold the filo sheet in two over the mincemeat to form a triangle. Fold over the two ends about ½ cm from the edge and then roll up into a cigar shape from the mincemeat end up.

Place on a non-stick baking tray with the join at the bottom and continue the process until you have 12 cigars.

Brush the cigars lightly with melted butter and then bake for 12-15 minutes until crisp and golden.

Serve warm dusted with icing sugar.

You can make these ahead and store in an air tight container. You can then reheat them in the oven (at 180oC fan, as before) for about 5 minutes.

No nonsense mincemeat tart

  • 300g shortcrust pastry (I cheat and buy mine ready-made)
  • 450g mincemeat

Topping

  • 75g butter melted
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 40g semolina
  • 40g caster sugar

Add all the ingredients for the topping together in a bowl and mix. Tip the mix onto a square of cling film and roll into a thick sausage shape. Chill in the fridge until solid.

Preheat your oven to 190oC fan.

Roll out the pastry to form a rectangle about 3mm thick. Transfer to a rectangular baking sheet and turn the edges of the pastry over slightly at the edges to create a rim.

Spoon the mincemeat over the surface of the pastry and distribute evenly with a palette knife right to the edges.

Take the topping out of the fridge and remove the cling film. Using a cheese grater grate the topping and then sprinkle over the mincemeat evenly. Work quickly here as the butter in the topping will start to melt and stick together when at room temperature.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the topping and the pastry are nice and golden.

Remove from the oven, cut into rectangles and dust with icing sugar.

If you are making this in advance, to reheat bake for 20 minutes at 150oC fan.

Unglamorous gammon

gammon revised

Gammon is so uncool – it’s one of those foods that conjures up images of old people’s homes and really bad pub food. And I’m not going to do its reputation any favours when I tell you that when recuperating from a sickness bug that floored my entire family and made me lose my appetite for an entire week, this is the first thing that I actually fancied eating.

And who did I turn to for a recipe to cook this unfashionable foodstuff but the most uncool of cookery writers – Delia. I’ve cooked this dish many, many times and I don’t bother experimenting with other recipes because it works so well. First you boil the joint in cider which is a good way to use that run-of-the-mill stuff (like Strongbow) that sits around going out of date after a big party. Nigella does a similar thing with coke (the fizzy drink sort) which sounds bizarre but is probably nice and I’ve also seen recipes using ginger beer.

As a Sunday roast gammon is the boring one, the one that doesn’t come with anything – no stuffing, no Yorkshires, maybe just a splodge of parsley or mustard sauce (which I couldn’t stand as a child). But the great thing about a nice bit of gammon (and something that you only really appreciate as an adult who has to cook their own dinners) is that you can do so much with the left overs. A couple of slices are great with oven chips and a fried egg, or you can slice into thin strips and toss with linguine, egg yolks and parsley for a carbonara type dish. But for me sliced in a sandwich with English mustard is the best.

Some people serve gammon as an addition to turkey for Christmas dinner. That’s never been a tradition in our family but I think it sounds like a nice idea and this recipe would be perfect because you could do the boiling part a day or two before and then roast on Christmas day once the turkey is out of the oven resting.

Delia’s sugar-glazed gammon

Serves 4 with left overs

  • 1 piece of middle cut gammon, rolled, about 1kg – I prefer mine smoked but it doesn’t have to be
  • 1 onion studded with a few cloves
  • A bayleaf
  • 570ml dry cider
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper corns
  • 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of English mustard

Put the gammon in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring it to the boil and then throw out the water which will look disgusting – all grey and foamy.

Now add the bayleaf, peppercorns and onion and pour in 425ml of cider and enough water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for one hour.

Remove the gammon, let it cool and then remove the string and skin with a sharp knife. If you are doing this part in advance then wrap in cling film and store in the fridge until ready to roast.

Preheat the oven to 190oC fan.

Stand the gammon up (fat side uppermost) and smear the mustard and brown sugar over the surface – it’s easiest to do this with your hands. Then put the joint into a roasting pan with the remaining cider in the bottom and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, basting the joint a couple of times with the juices.

NOTE: In the original recipe Delia studs the gammon with cloves all over before roasting. This probably looks prettier but I don’t bother with this as I find the taste of that many cloves a bit overbearing.

Smeared with mustard and sugar before entering the oven.

Smeared with mustard and sugar before entering the oven.

I like to serve gammon with ‘pommes coq d’or’ (pictured in the main photo)

Pommes coq d’or 

Serves 4

Take 5 medium sized floury potatoes (I use Wilja). Cut the potatoes as thinly as you can with a sharp knife (or with a mandolin if you have one and can be bothered to get it out and wash it up). Generously butter a shallow tin (mine is 23cm diameter and 4 cm deep) and layer the potatoes in the tin overlapping them slightly. I save the neatest ones for the top. – you want about 4 layers. Crush two cloves of garlic and add this to 250g of chicken stock (made up with half a Knorr chicken stock pot), along with 10 twists of the pepper mill. Pour the stock over the potatoes until it comes to just under the top layer (you may not need it all), then dot the top of the potatoes with butter. Bake in the oven at 180oC fan for 40 minutes foil-covered and then 30 minutes without foil or until the top is brown and crispy.

A job for a rainy weekend – Christmas pudding

Christmas pudding Elizabeth stirringChristmas pudding mix

I know, I know it’s only October – I too hate the fact that supermarkets have their Christmas aisles out as soon as the children have gone back to school in September. I really try to avoid thinking about Christmas until at least November, but this weekend it was so rainy and cold that it seemed like a good idea to get on with making the Christmas pudding which involves being house/stove bound for a whole day.

It’s meant to be a fun family activity (at least that’s what my ‘Homemaker’ magazine tells me) and it is in a way, but stirring up with two small children is not what I would call stress free. Firstly, they want to eat all the ingredients (raisins and sultanas being a favourite of almost all children), and secondly the mixture is very stiff even for an adult to stir. Eddie sent several spoonfuls flying across the kitchen with the effort making a right old mess.

This recipe comes from the safe and reliable Delia. This is the fifth Christmas that I’ve made my own and to be honest I’m never entirely sure whether it really is worth the hassle – you have to steam the puddings for 8 hours!!! But I do think that home made tastes better and I have managed to turn previous Christmas pudding haters with this recipe.

And if you look at the economics it does work out a bit cheaper too. The ingredients for this recipe total around £11 (based on my Tesco shop). If you buy the equivalent weight in Tesco finest puddings you are looking at £4 a pudding which means a saving of £5 (however this doesn’t include the cost of having the hob and fan on for a whole day).

They call the day you make your Christmas pudding ‘stir up Sunday’, but with this recipe you leave the mixture overnight before steaming so it’s best to do the stirring on the Saturday and steam on the Sunday.

Delia’s Christmas pudding

Makes 2 x 2 pint puddings (which serve 6-8) or 4 x 1 pint puddings (which serve 4)
I make 1 x 2 pint pudding for our family Christmas dinner and two smaller 1 pint ones to give away.

Dry ingredients

  • 225g shredded suet
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 225g white breadcrumbs
  • 450g soft brown sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g raisins
  • 560g currants
  • 50g blanched, chopped almonds
  • 50g mixed peel
  • The grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely

Wet ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 300ml stout (Delia uses 150ml stout, and 150ml barley wine but barley wine is quite difficult to get hold of so I just use more stout instead)
  • 4 tablespoons rum

If you are making the whole amount above it is best to use two large mixing bowls, measuring half the ingredients into each, otherwise it is really difficult to mix up.

Basically you add all the dry ingredients to the bowl in the order above mixing thoroughly before adding the next.

Then in a different bowl beat the wet ingredients. Firstly the eggs, then mix in the rum and stout. Empty this over the dry ingredients and stir very hard indeed until the mixture forms a dropping consistency. You may need a little more stout.

After mixing, cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rest overnight.

The next morning divide the mixture into pudding basins greased with a little butter and pack the mixture into them. Cover each basin with a square of greaseproof paper (with a fold in the middle to allow for expansion) and a square of pudding cloth on top*. You can attach these to the rims with string, or I use a thick elastic band. You may also want to make a handle with the string so that you can lift the hot puddings out easily once they are done.

Steam the puddings for 8 hours. I don’t have a steamer so I place the bowls on a scrunched up ball of tin foil in a pan with about 2 inches of boiling water and a lid. You need to keep an eye on the proceedings and top up with more boiling water periodically so that they don’t boil dry.

After 8 hours leave the puddings to cool. Replace the greaseproof paper and pudding cloth with fresh and store in a cool place until Christmas.

On Christmas day you will need to steam the pudding for around 2 hours before serving.

*You can buy pudding cloths or muslin squares from Lakeland but they are rather expensive (£5.39 for 10). I use old muslin cloths which I had when the children were babies (well washed of course) which I rip up into squares. I wash and reuse these from year to year.

This is just to show the fold in the greaseproof paper which allows the pudding to expand.

This is just to show the fold in the greaseproof paper which allows the pudding to expand.

Three puddings ready for steaming.

Three puddings ready for steaming.

Christmas pudding Eddie stirring

Trying to be helpful.

NOTE

If you want to make a smaller quantity below are the calculations.

For 4 small puddings, or 2 small and 2 large, or 1 large and 3 small For 3 small puddings, or 1 large and one small For 2 small puddings or one large For 1 small pudding
Shredded suet 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Self-raising flour 110g 82.5g 55g 27.5g
Breadcrumbs 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Soft brown sugar 450g 337.5g 225g 112.5g
Mixed spice 1 tsp ¾ tsp ½ tsp ¼ tsp
Nutmeg ½ tsp 3/8 tsp ¼ tsp 1/8 tsp
Cinnamon ¼ tsp somewhere between 1/4 & 1/8 1/8 tsp my brain hurts
Sultanas 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Raisins 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Currants 560g 420g 280g 140g
Almonds 50g 37.5g 25g 12.5g
Mixed peel 50g 37.5g 25g 12.5g
Orange rind 1 ¾ ½ ¼
Lemon rind 1 ¾ ½ ¼
Apple 1 ¾ ½ ¼
Stout 300ml 225ml 150ml 75ml
Rum 4 tbsp 3 tbsp 2 tbsp 1 tbsp
Eggs 4 3 2 1
Christmas pudding 2015

The difference two years makes. Elizabeth making Christmas pudding 2015.