Cloves

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

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Baklava

baklava 2

I’ve been meaning to make baklava for months and I spent so long dithering and researching recipes that when I came to make it I completely bamboozled myself with the options. I’m amazed that everything ended up OK because in the end I cobbled together a recipe by taking bits from Nigella, Jamie, Felicity Cloake AND the recipe on the back of the filo packet.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my 37 years it’s that you should get on and face the things you fear because most of the time they end up not being so bad after all. Making baklava was a case in point. I put off making it because I thought it would be tricky but it was actually pretty straightforward.

You could easily tinker with this recipe to get it just to your liking. You could vary the mix of nuts depending on what you have to hand/what you like/what you can afford. And if you don’t like too much spice then it’s not necessary to include as much/or indeed any cardamom, ground cloves or cinnamon.

I didn’t have a sweet tooth until I breast fed my children but I developed a sugar fixation then which has never left me. Just a tiny square of baklava is usually thought to be enough but I think I could easily eat several pieces in one go – no problem.

Baklava

  • 1 pack of filo pastry (I used Theos ready rolled which comes in a 250g packet with 12 sheets)
  • 100g of melted butter (or more if needed, I melted 200g but only used half)

Filling

  • 500g of mixed nuts (you can play around with the types depending on your taste but I used 250g of walnuts, 150g of almonds and 100g of pistachios)
  • ¼ teaspoon of cardamom seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • The zest of 1 orange
  • A good pinch of salt

Syrup

  • 125ml water
  • 250g caster or granulated sugar
  • A tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of rosewater
  • 100g of greek honey

Preheat the oven to 160oC.

First chop the nuts. I did this in a mini food processor. Don’t over chop so that they’re like dust, it’s nice to have some larger pieces for bite.

Put the nuts in a bowl and add the cardamom, ground cloves, cinnamon, orange zest, salt and mix well.

Line a deep baking tray 24cm by 34cm and at least 4cm deep with baking parchment so that it comes up the sides of the tray and butter liberally.

Unwrap the filo pastry and trim to the size of the baking tray (I used scissors to do this). Put one layer in the bottom of the tray, then liberally brush another filo sheet with butter and put this on top as lightly as you can. Repeat until you have used four sheets and then spread over half the nut mixture.

Now butter and layer up four more filo sheets, then add the remaining nuts and top with four more sheets of filo (buttering in the same way as before).

Cut into squares or diamonds as neatly as you can with a sharp knife. My technique needs some work (I tried following Nigella’s instructions for traditional diamonds, in her book ‘Feast’, but I think I might do simple small squares next time).

Bake for one hour.

Meanwhile make the syrup by adding the sugar, water and lemon to a small pan, heat over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat to medium and simmer (without stirring) until the syrup thickens (10-20 minutes, for me it was more like 20).

When an hour is up take the baklava out of the oven and turn up the heat to 180oC. Pour over the syrup being particularly liberal along the cracks and drizzle over the honey (again putting more down the cracks).

Once the oven has come up to temperature put the baklava back in for just 5 minutes.

Leave to cool completely before prizing from the baking tray and storing in an airtight container.

I think baklava is best after a couple of days (if there is any left by that point).

How to cook Christmas dinner without crying and a recipe for bread sauce

Crying at Christmas

My husband and I have teamed up to cook Christmas dinner for over 10 years now. At first we felt the pressure and really tried to impress. We trawled the internet for new ideas and watched all those Christmas cookery specials – amazed at the ability of celebrity chefs to churn out new takes on the traditional Christmas dinner year, after year, after year.

But in the end we’ve come to the rather undramatic conclusion that keeping things simple is the key. A few basic, well-cooked dishes is far better than a plate so packed full of miscellaneous items that it looks like you’re dining at one of those awful ‘all you can eat’ Chinese, Italian, Indian buffets.

This does make cooking Christmas dinner very undemanding (just think of it as a regular Sunday roast with a slightly bigger bird). But the real point here is that no one really cares whether the stuffing is in a beautiful roll and jewelled with cranberries, or if the carrots are delicately spiced with cumin. They just want a generous amount of food, a smiley/unstressed host, and a free flowing supply of wine. Save culinary excellence for another time when you can chose exactly what to cook based on who you’re cooking for.

To make our lives even easier we always prepare as much as possible beforehand so that on the day itself it’s just a case of bunging things in the oven. Christmas Eve is the day when everything happens in our house, we peel-chop-parboil all the vegetables and keep them in the fridge overnight, we make the stuffings and gravy…the kids watch far too much Christmas TV.

And on Christmas Day we always take the turkey out to rest in a double layer of foil before we start cooking the other stuff (potatoes, vegetables, stuffing etc.). That way we always have plenty of room in the oven. The meat does stay warm enough and with plenty of hot gravy over the top no one has ever complained.

This year I’m very excited because we’re finally getting the chance to cook in our very own kitchen. I’ve bought a special free range turkey from the butcher but apart from that we’re going to keep things pared down. Just potatoes roasted simply with oil and salt, some steamed cabbage from the allotment, roasted carrots, two stuffings (vegetarian sage and onion, sausage meat and chestnut), some really good gravy and…

…well despite everything I’ve said everyone has one thing that they see as an essential part of Christmas dinner and for me it has to be bread sauce. Someone asked me the other day what exactly it was and when I described it as bread soaked in milk flavoured with cloves, I realised that it sounded pretty horrible. But it isn’t. I don’t eat bread sauce at any other time of the year but for me the turkey (or should I really say Boxing Day turkey sandwiches) just wouldn’t be the same without it.  I always use the following Delia recipe and to make life easier I make it a day or two in advance and store it in a jar in the fridge. I then warm through and add the cream and butter just before serving on Christmas Day.

Delia Smith’s bread sauce

Serves 5-6 people (I usually double the recipe which makes enough for Christmas Day  (to feed 10 people) AND turkey sandwiches)

  • About 75g of two day old white bread, crusts removed and made into breadcrumbs using a food processor
  • 425ml full fat milk
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 15 whole cloves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tablespoons of double cream
  • Salt and pepper

Cut the onion in half and stick the cloves in it. Place the onion, bayleaf, peppercorns and milk in a saucepan and leave to infuse for a couple of hours in a warm place.

Then, over a very low heat, slowly bring the milk to the boil (about 15 minutes). Remove the onion, bayleaf and peppercorns.

Stir in the breadcrumbs and add 25g of the butter and some salt. Leave the saucepan on a very low heat stirring now and then until the crumbs have swollen and thickened the sauce. I’ve made this many times and it’s difficult to be exact about the quantity of breadcrumbs needed because this depends on the texture and make up of your bread. But if the sauce is too runny don’t worry just add a few more breadcrumbs. The consistency should be thick enough to just about fall off a spoon. Leave to cool and place in a clean jar in the fridge until ready to serve.

On Christmas Day, heat the sauce in a saucepan, add the remaining 25g of butter and double cream and taste to check the seasoning adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with the turkey and a big, relaxed smile.

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.

What spices make up Chinese Five Spice?

I like to grind my own Chinese Five Spice as I think it tastes fresher than bought stuff but I always forget the five key ingredients so I wanted to make a note of them here.

Chinese Five Spice

Equal quantities of:

  • Star anise
  • Sichuan peppercorns
  • Fennel seeds
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon

Grind up the above ingredients in a spice grinder and store in a jar. You don’t need to make up too much at a time as the flavours are very strong and a little goes a long way.

Related recipe: Chinese flavoured rice in my post ‘Nice Rice’.

spices