Mrs. Jackson Cooks

Life through food

Food glorious (christmas) food

We’ve been eating…lots…but as I say, that’s what Christmas is all about.  This is a medley of photos and food I’ve cooked and eaten over the past few days.  I kept forgetting to take photos, so they’re all a bit random!

My husband and I are in Scotland, renting a cottage with friends, as we couldn’t cope with the idea of another family Christmas where we try to please everyone, and fail, and only end up making ourselves miserable!  After an argument that lasted all of boxing day last year, we decided we wouldn’t be doing the family thing again.  And so far, I have to say a cottage in Scotland is the way forward!  We’ve not been entirely without family, we visited my lovely Scottish relatives.  But a few hours with some relatives you rarely see is not the same as all day with family we see all the time.

Food wise, I have been indebted to the Hairy Bikers and their 12 days of Christmas recipe book for all the delicious food.  Without them I would have been lost and panicking, but with the book, whilst it was lots of work, we produced lots of delicious food, with Christmas dinner being one of the best we’ve ever had.  Although they didn’t have capon roasting directions, but they were easily enough found on the internet.

We decided that there wasn’t enough of us for a turkey (minimum 10lbs!) so we went for a capon instead.  Which is a castrated cockerel.  Apparently it makes them eat more, get fat, and become more juicier than chickens or normal cocks.  And I have to say, this was a delicious capon.  And more or less a perfect size for us.

If you’re interested, it was about 7lbs and I did it for 30 mins on high heat, upside down, covered in foil, then 1.5 hours the right way up, covered on a medium heat, and then 30 mins with the foil off to brown it at the same heat.

I’m not going to reproduce all the recipes, if you’re that interested – buy the book!  But I’ll tease you with a few.  We loved the brussel sprouts especially, which is odd as normally we hate them.  But the key, it seems, is frying them in maple syrup.  The sweet syrup takes away all the bitterness.  And we also added chestnuts and bacon to them which just added to the flavours.

We also loved the stuffings.  They were just great.  We made chestnut and sage and apricot and almond, both out the hairy biker’s book.  I’ve made stuffing from a packet before, but doing it from scratch makes all the difference and really turns the stuffing into something worth eating and blogging about!

I have to say though, I bought fresh chestnuts and my fingers still hurt from peeling them!  If you can get vacuum packed pre-peeled ones, then I would definitely recommend them if you like your fingers!

My friend made the brandy sauce for the pudding and it was extremely tasty…might have something to do with the quantities of cream and brandy she put in it, but hey, its christmas!  And it’s freezing cold so we need our fats and alcohol.

The other thing of note was the christmas spiced vodka.  I wrote about making it in my previous post, but we’ve now drunk it and can definitely say, it is so beautifully warming and delicious (despite being frozen!) that its worth the effort and the wait.  And really 3 days isn’t much of a wait.

Well, the haunch of venison is now marinading in the fridge, for the obligatory 2 days.  We’ll be cooking that in a couple of days.  And looking at the meat, even uncooked, I know it’s going to be beautiful.

Even just thinking about all this food makes me feel happy.  There is something about cooking and eating that can be the best thing in the world.  Yes, I’ll have to put in some serious hours in the gym, but then, that’s what January is for.  That and paying off the credit card!  But as it’s still December I won’t contemplate either for any longer here.

Since Christmas day, we’ve had the obligatory capon and ham pie and capon curry.  And we’re now making soup from the capon bones.  I might even make a ham pasta bake with the remaining ham!  But Christmas is full of traditions, especially food ones, and to break them only makes for unhappiness.

I hope you all had really lovely Christmases full of gorgeous food and lots of wine.  And are now looking forward to 2011 in anticipation of all the great food that is to come.  Here are the recipes for the stuffings and the brussels sprouts.  All out the Hairy Biker’s 12 days of Christmas.

Brussels sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts

Serves about 4-6

500g Brussels sprouts, peeled and halved

1 tbsp oil (we used olive)

125g pancetta or streaky smoked bacon, chopped

125g roasted chestnuts, peeled and halved

1 tbsp maple syrup

salt & pepper

  1. Boil the sprouts in a pan with boiling water and salt for about 8-10 minutes or until they look softened.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan, add the pancetta and fry until crispy.
  3. Add the sprouts, chestnuts and maple syrup to the pan and mix together well.
  4. Cook for a minute or two until the syrup caramelises, then add the seasoning, remove from the heat and stick in a warmed serving dish until ready to serve.
  5. Eat, and be surprised at the sweetness and lack of bitterness.  You may find you actually like sprouts for the first time ever!

Chestnut and sage stuffing

enough for about 4-6 people

1 tbsp oil

1 medium onion finely chopped

75g roasted chestnuts, peeled and roughly chopped

115g sausagemeat

25g white breadcrumbs

zest of 1 lemon

1 bunch of sage, chopped

salt & pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and fry the onion until softened.  Remove from the heat, put in a large-ish bowl until cooled.  It’s important its cold when combining with uncooked sausagemeat.
  2. When its cold, add the rest of the ingredients to the onions, stir well so it’s all well mixed.
  3. Set aside until it’s needed to stuff a turkey or chicken, or form balls with it and roast in the oven until cooked.
  4. Sit down, stuff your face and let the compliments roll in!

Apricot and almond stuffing

serves about 4-6 people

1 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

50g apricots (ready to eat) roughly chopped

50g blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

125g sausagemeat

zest of 1 orange

40g white breadcrumbs

2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley

salt & pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion over a low heat until softened.  Remove from the heat and place in a large-ish bowl until cooled.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the onions, when cool, and mix well to combine and set aside until needed.
  3. Stuff in turkey or chicken or roll into balls and roast in the oven.
  4. Eat in smug satisfaction at your cooking expertise!

And now, after all that cooking and eating, sit down with a glass of spiced vodka and tonic and let others do the washing up!  You deserve it

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Preparing for Christmas

This year is the first year I’m cooking christmas day.  Normally we go to either my family’s or my husband’s.   This year we’re done with the family drama and are escaping to a cottage in Scotland with friends.  Which is quite exciting, from a cooking point of view anyway.  I get to make Christmas dinner.  As well as exciting, it’s also terrifying because people have so many memories associated with Christmas, me included, that it’s hard to keep everyone happy and not screw up! But I won’t be on my own, I’m expecting everyone to muck in, and I’ll just do what I’m good at – delegating aka bossing everyone about!

Anyway, partly because Christmas things tend to need to be made in advance and partly because we only go to Scotland on Christmas eve, so there’s not much time to prepare, I’ve been cooking for Christmas.  And it’s been pretty fun, mostly, but I’m exhausted now!  I put on the obligatory Christmas cd that everyone seems to have stashed somewhere.  That started off as quite a novelty but about half way through I’d had enough of it!  There’s only so many Christmas songs any one person can take in one go.  And partly because I’ve done most of my gift shopping online, I’ve not been into many shops to notice the music that usually annoyingly plays all day in shops from about mid-November!

I started with the ham, which I roasted, and then glazed in honey and mustard – thanks to the Hairy Bikers – their Christmas recipe book (12 days of christmas – found on amazon here) has been invaluable already and prevented full blown panic from setting in!  It also helped me with my grocery shopping list, and so I didn’t end up buying all sorts of un-needed things in panic!

Then, whilst that was in the oven, I prepped the apple and mincemeat Jalousie’s (from Delia’s pudding cook book) that I’ve already blogged about here. I’ve made a couple more, one of which I cooked and the other I froze for Scotland.   This time, though I also added in some dried cranberries, because I had some that I thought would be good in here, and I had the orange this time. I also used some lovely fresh mincemeat that was made by my mother-in-law.  She gave me such a lovely big jar of it, that I had some leftover after the Jalousies.

And as it doesn’t have suet in it, it won’t keep, so I then made my first, and probably only, batch of mince pies!  I always thought they were difficult, but really, if you use ready made pastry as I do, and you already have the mince meat, there’s really nothing to it!   I also thought you needed pastry cutters for them, but I just used a jam jar and a glass – making sure one was bigger than the other.  I just used my cupcake/yorkshire pudding tin.   I’m quite proud of them actually, despite not making the pastry or mincemeat!  They taste delicious.  And the reason I use ready made pastry is, it’s a lot lighter than stuff that is homemade.  Often mince pies are quite heavy with pastry and get stuck in your teeth.  These were so light and deliciously flakey without being puff pastry-like.

The mince pies were ready for the oven at the same time the ham needed to come out, so that was perfect timing, and I then studded and glazed the ham before returning it to the oven, and removing the mince pies.  I then set about putting marzipan on the Christmas cakes I made back in October, which were my first ever blog on here – which you can find here, another Delia favourite.  No, I didn’t make the marzipan.  In all honesty, I couldn’t be bothered.  The Hairy Bikers do have a recipe, but it just seemed like a lot of effort, especially as I tend to pick off the icing and marzipan from the cake when I eat it!  It’s more for show, and for others to eat!  I’ll ice it in a couple of days when the marzipan’s dried out.

At this point I was flagging so I sat down with a cup of tea and one of my freshly made mince pies and had a breather.  It was worth it for the mince pie alone!

I had reserved the juice that came out the ham and accidentally cut off some of the fat when removing the rind (having never done it before and not being sure what was rind and what was fat!), so as suggested by the Hairy Bikers, for the stock remains after boiling the ham (which I didn’t do), I chopped up the veges for the stock, threw in some water with the ham juices, rind and fat, added the herbs and spices, and boiled for soup.  At the end I added some peas, and took a couple of slices off the finished ham to add to the soup  – and voila, pea and ham soup!  In the photo it looks yellow in colour, but actually its much greener – more of a greeny yellowy colour.

When the ham came out the oven I threw in the Jalousie, and set about the final bit of prep for today.  I made Christmas spiced vodka.  Well I started it.  I mixed up the fruit, spices and vodka and have stuck it in the fridge to absorb the flavours.  I’ll seive it and bottle it just before we head up to Scotland.  Another lovely Hairy Biker recipe (well I hope it’s lovely – I haven’t tried it yet!).

After this, I was well and truly exhausted, so I dished up some of the soup and ate that for tea.  Just lovely.  So, here are all the recipes, as I made them.  You know where they all originate from, but I think, bar the vodka (and the marzipan, which was shop bought!) I’ve adapted them all!

Mustard and honey glazed ham

Serves about 10 (according to the hairy bikers – I think it could easily serve more, especially as you’ll be eating Turkey too)

1.5-3kg De-boned, rolled piece of gammon (I used smoked because my mother-in-law gave it to me, but if you’re not a fan of salted things, go for unsmoked)

about 20-30 whole cloves

3 tbsp English mustard

3 tbsp runny honey

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees celsius (or a bit higher if it’s not a fan oven).  Wrap the gammon, as it is, in tin foil and place on a baking tray.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes per 500g.
  2. When the gammon has cooked for the right amount of time, remove from the oven and turn up the heat to 200 degrees celsius.   Unwrap but keep the foil under it.  Strain off any juices into a large saucepan if making the soup.  Slide a sharp knife under the rind and remove (without removing the fat).  Stick in the saucepan with the juices.  Score the fat all over in diamond shapes and stick a clove in the centre of each diamond.
  3. In a small bowl mix the honey and mustard until smooth and even in consistency and then generously brush over the fat on the ham, and down both sides.   Pinch together the corners of the  foil to form a basket/boat around the ham.  Put the ham back in the oven for 10 minutes.
  4. After 10 minutes, remove from the oven, brush again with the remaining glaze and return to the oven, but turn the ham around so the other side is facing the back of the oven, for a further 10-15 minutes, until the ham is golden.   If bits start to burn cover with tin foil.
  5. Remove from the oven.  Leave to rest for 15 minutes if serving warm, or leave to cool completely before putting in the fridge if keeping for later.
  6. Marvel at your wondrous culinary skills and admire your mother for all her hard work to make Christmas special.

Ham and Pea soup

Serves 4-6 (ish)

Reserved ham juices and rind

2 small onions chopped in half (or one large onion quartered)

2 carrots chopped into short lengths

2 celery sticks chopped into short lengths

4 bay leaves

small handful of black peppercorns

small handful of cloves

700ml – 1 litre boiling water (or chicken/vegetable stock)

150g frozen peas, defrosted

Cooked ham shredded

Tbsp creme fraiche

  1. Add the vegetables, herbs and spices to a large saucepan with the rind and ham juices.  Add the boiling water or stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer, covered for about 30 minutes.
  2. Add the peas and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Once the vegetables are properly cooked, pour into a food processor or use a hand blender to blend the soup.
  4. Return to the saucepan, add the ham and the creme fraiche and heat through.  Taste for seasoning (its unlikely you’ll need salt, especially if you’re using smoked gammon, but I did add a chicken stock cube at this point as the base flavour was a bit weak).
  5. Serve with warm crusty bread and eat immediately to feel satisfyingly warm and full.

Cheat’s mince pies

makes about 15

500g ready-made shortcrust pastry, warmed to room temperature

350g good quality, ready-made mincemeat

zest of an orange

(some extra sultanas, if you’ve not got quite enough mincemeat)

splash of brandy or rum (to go with the sultanas, or leave out if you have enough mincemeat)

butter for greasing

1 egg white

icing sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.  Grease the cupcake tin with butter.
  2. Place the mincemeat, orange zest, sultanas and brandy (if using) in a bowl and mix.
  3. Flour your surface and rolling pin and roll out your pastry until its about as thin as a 50pence piece.   Take your pastry cutters, jam jars or glasses (you want 2 sizes, one slightly bigger than the cupcake dents in your tin and one slightly smaller.  Cut out 15 of the larger size.  if you run out of pastry, gather up the bits, re-roll and then cut.
  4. Place each of the pastry circles in a cupcake dent.   Place about 1tbsp of the mincemeat mixture in each pastry dent.  You don’t want them too full.
  5. Then gather up the pastry, re-roll and cut out 15 of the smaller circles.  Place on top of the pastry and mincemeat in the cupcake tin.   Again, re-roll your pastry if needed.
  6. Brush the pastry tops with egg white, make a hole for the steam to escape in each mince pie.
  7. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, or until cooked and golden.  Remove from the oven.  Leave to cool slightly before turning onto a wire rack.  If serving hot, dust with icing sugar, or wait til cold if serving cold.
  8. Serve with a lovely cup of tea or glass of mulled wine to feel all festive.

Christmas spiced vodka

Makes about 500ml.

300g mixed dried fruit

75g caster sugar

zest of an orange

zest of a lemon

2 cinnamon sticks

6 cloves

2 tsp mixed spice

half a nutmeg, grated

750ml good quality vodka

  1. Mix the fruit, zests, sugar and spices in a large bowl.   Add the vodka.  Stir well, then cover tightly with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 3 days.
  2. After the 3 days, remove the clingfilm, line a seive with 2 layers of muslin and place over a large jug.  Pour the mixture into the muslin and allow to drip through.
  3. Once its collected in the jug, pour into bottles and seal tightly.  Store in the freezer until needed.
  4. Serve straight from the freezer in shots.  But do remind everyone its pure vodka or you could have granny passing out in the Turkey!

Photos of the jalousies and the marzipaned cake.

I shall now go and collapse into bed before doing it all again tomorrow!  Next up will be baking – cookies, cakes etc.

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Inching closer to my Didi’s dahl bhat

Soon after I made the turkey dahls, I found this recipe on Delia’s blog and I’m quite impressed as to how similar it is to my didi’s dahl.  The only thing I’d say is, I’m not sure the spices are quite right-  but I keep trying.  And despite the  spices in my Didi’s being different, this is still delicious.

It’s  a great comfort food recipe and very warming for these cold days (and nights).  And the chilli in it is great for clearing out the coughs and colds that seem to keep lurking at this time of year.

You can find the original recipe here

I have, as usual, altered it from the original.  I reduced the amount of lentils as I thought the original recipe uses too many and even reduced it was far too many.  So in the recipe below, I’ve reduced it further.  I also swapped ground ginger for fresh ginger, added some chillis, and changed how it was cooked!  It’s vegetarian and vegan (providing you don’t serve with the yoghurt as Delia suggests) so another healthy option and great for veges. I’d also say, it’s another good store cupboard, thrifty option for when you’re skint or can’t be bothered to go shopping.

Dahl Bhat (Delia style)

Serves 4

1 tbsp oil (I used chilli oil)

1 large onion roughly choppped

1 garlic clove finely chopped

1 inch fresh root ginger, peeled and grated

2 small red chillis finely chopped (de seed if you don’t want too spicy, or leave out all together)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp hot madras curry powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 green pepper, roughly chopped

1 tin of tomatoes

150g red split lentils or masoor dahl

2 potatoes peeled and chopped in to 1 inch cubes

300ml water

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or wok.  When it’s hot, fry the onion until browned.
  2. Add the ginger, garlic, chillis and spices to the pan and fry until they become quite fragrant.
  3. Add the pepper and fry again for a couple of minutes.
  4. Then add the tinned tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Stir them well into the spic mix and cook for a couple of minutes until broken down a bit.
  5. Add the lentils and the potato and stirl well to coat in the spice and tomato mix.
  6. Add the water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook for about 20 minutes until the lentils and potato are cooked.  The lentils should be mushy.  This is not the kind of dish for al dente!  Add more water during the cooking process if the pan starts to become too dry.  You should check the pan every 5 minutes or so, to make sure the lentils aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  7. Serve with plain boiled rice and eat immediately to feel all warm and fuzzy again.
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Yet another pudding for apples

I continue in my quest to use the apples my uncle kindly gave me from his garden, as they are unfortunately, too sour to eat by themselves. It took me, as you’d expect, to Delia again, and this time, to a new recipe from her somewhat daunting recipe book The Delia Collection: Puddings. You’ll be relieved to know that I think I’m going to use the final amount of the apples on a Ravinder Bhogal recipe that looks yummy but I need some coronation caramel for that one, so this one came first.

As you know, I’m scared of pastry, so unlike most things, I buy my pastry. I will get over my fear one day, I’m sure, but not this day. So I used the Jus Rol shortcrust pastry for this, and really, if you’re in a hurry, you could do this as a mid week pudding if you used ready made pastry because there’s no need to mess about with making and then chilling the pastry first.

Also, Delia says to soak the raisins in the cider overnight but I didn’t have the time or patience for that so I just soaked them for a couple of hours. Obviously longer is better, but don’t worry too much if they don’t have much time. I only had about 50g of raisins so I made the rest up with sultanas. I don’t think it really matters – just use what you have to hand.

This does require a degree of thought before you do this recipe – because most people don’t have pastry in their freezers, the odd can of cider lying around and semolina. I suppose people like my mum might, but I couldn’t imagine any of my friends having such things! In fact, I didn’t. But I did manage to find everything I needed in M&S so they aren’t difficult ingredients to source and most supermarkets will have them, even the smaller ones.

I used the amount of apples as stated by Delia but I think you could easily add another 50g or so of apples without the parcels getting over full. I’d also use more raisins, and have increased both quantities accordingly in the recipe.

I cooked 4 out of the 8 parcels and froze the other 4 after putting together but before cooking. I’ll let you know how that turns out. But I thought 8 was too many for 2 people and we’d be eating them all week! Which would be no good for either of our figures! But these would be great for a dinner party as they are individual tartlets and they’re very pretty when they’re done, served with custard.

Delia also suggests using any other kind of fruit but if using soft fruit like berries or gooseberries or rhubarb, add a tablespoon of semolina instead of a teaspoon, to absorb the juices or your pastry will go soggy.

Anyway, once you start with this it doesn’t take long to put the parcels together and they are very good with custard. And great if you have a main dish in the oven too. This is my adaptation of Delia’s recipe, although feel free to make your own pastry.

Delia’s Apple and Raisin individual parcel tartlets

Serves 8

500g ready to roll shortcrust pastry

400g apples (whatever you have to hand – adjust the sugar accordingly), cored and diced (unpeeled)

100g raisins (or other dried grapes)

120ml dry cider

8 teaspoons semolina

16 whole cloves

8 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 egg white, lightly beaten

  1. Soak the raisins in the cider for as long as possible, or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius
  3. Grease a baking pan – I used a glass baking dish – something with reasonably high sides thats oblong or square rather than round in shape
  4. Flour an area for working the pastry. I use my work surface. Cut the pastry into 4 pieces.
  5. Roll each pastry piece into an oblong of about 26x13cm, then cut in half to make 2 squares.
  6. Taking 2 squares at a time, put 1 teaspoon of semolina in the middle of each square, leaving about 1cm around the edges.
  7. Top the semolina with 2 tablespoons of apples, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 2 cloves and 1 tablespoon of drained raisins.
  8. brush (or use a knife) some of the egg white round the outside of the pastry.
  9. Then pinch the corners together hard and fold up to make a little open box around the filling. Using a spatula to help, lift the parcel into the baking dish and firmly place in a corner.
  10. Repeat with the remaining square until they are all tightly in the baking dish.
  11. Add any remaining fruit to the parcels.
  12. Then brush the visible pastry with the egg white and place in the oven for about 50 minutes or until the parcels look golden and cooked.
  13. Serve with custard, ice cream or cream and enjoy, smug in your ability to make something with pastry!
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Easy alternative to mince pies

In the shepherd’s pie post I wrote about the Jalousie I made to follow the pie.  This is a super simple recipe that I’ve been making for years, even when I had a cupboard for a kitchen and no rolling pin!  I used an empty wine bottle instead! Which just goes to show that you don’t need space or utensils, although both are handy.

You can get the shepherd’s pie recipe here

And to be honest, it’s never lasted for mince pies.  Although this time I made double so you never know!  Its delicious with custard or ice cream, or cream, or whatever really!  And great for after sunday lunches in winter (or autumn).   It’s also good for using up apples, that in my case were kindly donated by my uncle. And because of all the apples, I use less mincemeat and more apples than Delia – but adjust for what you happen to have.

It is, as you’d expect, a Delia recipe from her The Delia Collection: Puddings recipe book.  It’s one of the few I actually make from it as most of them are still too intimidating for me.  But I’m getting braver so you never know! I have no idea what Jalousie is, and if you’re wondering too, this is a puff pastry long thin pie a bit like a strudel but less thick and something that usually tastes better warm.

Although I’ve never tried it, I imagine this would be good with dried cranberries or flaked almonds or pecans as well.  But mincemeat is a very simple option and can be found in all supermarkets especially at this time of year.

Delia’s mincemeat and apple jalousie

Serves about 6 – 8 depending on how greedy you are

350g mincemeat

4 small apples (or 2 larger, or 1 cooking apple)

zest of 1 orange (I used orange juice as I’m out of oranges but zest is better)

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice (or throw in a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, if you don’t have mixed spice)

2 tablespoons brown rum

375g pack of ready rolled puff pastry (I used M&S rolled puff pastry sheets – even simpler, but the normal stuff is fine too but needs more rolling)

some flour for dusting

1 egg, beaten (or use the egg whites from the shepherd’s pie recipe)

1 tbsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius
  2. core and chop the apples (skin on) into small squares.
  3. Put the mincemeat in a bowl and add the apple pieces along with the orange zest, spice, and rum and mix together well.
  4. Lightly dust a reasonably large surface (your worktop is fine – marble and granite are best as they’re cold).  Dust further than you think as the pastry always goes further than you expect – or at least it does for me!
  5. Unroll the pastry onto the floured surface and roll (dust your rolling pin first too) until quite flat and about 30 x 45cm.
  6. Cut the pastry in half lenthways, so you have 2 long oblongs.  Put 1 half to one side, and with the other roll until a bit longer and wider (by about 2-3 cm).  Then fold in half lengthways and using a sharp knife cut diagonal slits in it from the fold out towards the edges, leaving about 2cm from the edge uncut.
  7. Place the other half on a greased baking tray (as flat as you can find, your grill pan bottom will do fine).  Pile the apple and mincemeat mix on top of the pastry leaving about 1cm round the edges.  You can pile it quite high.
  8. wet around the edges of pastry with a bit of water (you can use your finger, or a brush if you have one)
  9. Unfold the cut pastry oblong and place on top of the mincemeat pressing down so it meets and sticks to the edge of the bottom pastry oblong.
  10. press together hard.  REmove any excess pastry and squeeze the edges together so they’re a little crimped and puffed.
  11. Brush the egg all over the top of it (use a knife if you don’t have a brush), sprinkle with the sugar and cinammon
  12. Place in the oven and cook for 35 minutes or until its puffed and golden and smelling gorgeous.
  13. Serve with custard or ice cream or rum butter/cream and happy Christmas thoughts (all bad ones must be banished at this point).
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An alternative to apple crumble

This is a good recipe for those of you who have an apple tree (or a neighbour that does, or a mum that does!) and you’re wondering what to do with all those apples, especially as many that aren’t shop bought aren’t so pretty or so sweet for just eating.  Apple crumble is the obvious and super easy choice but if you’re sick of crumbles and want some thing a little different, that’s only marginally more complicated than crumble, then I reckon that Delia has come up with another winner here.  It’s a perfect sunday lunch pudding.  It does take a little time to cook so again it’s not a quick weekday thing, unless you’re one of those people that works from home or is a housewife or carer or something and can start this earlier and have it in the oven.

It does have quite a bit of sugar in it, so probably not one for dieting, but I suppose you could replace with Splenda or something.  It might not taste quite as good though!  But you need a day off from the diet a week I reckon.  You can’t be good all the time.  And this has apples in it so it’s not all bad.  Apparently an apple a day helps with dieting (according to glamour magazine – maybe it’s the modern version of that old wives tale!). And it’s yummy so it’s worth falling off the wagon for.

If you wanted to make it for a dinner party, if you did it in individualised dishes, I think that would have the sufficient wow factor needed.  You’d probably need something bigger than a ramekin but there are plenty of individual baking dishes out there.  I’d go with something about twice the size of a ramekin.  Make exactly the same, but you’ll probably want to reduce the cooking time – I’d start with 30 minutes and go from there until they look and smell done.

:The original recipe can be found here

To be honest, I didn’t really change it much except I used light brown sugar in the topping instead of caster (after the cakes I’ve run out of caster!) and I used blanched flaked almonds instead of chopped (because that’s what I had in the cupboard).   I actually liked it with the flaked almonds – it made a really nice crust, which I’m sure you’d get with the chopped ones too but I liked the way the flakes looked on the crust.  Have a look at my picture, see what you think.

Also I used apples from my uncle’s apple tree which were sort of a cross between a cooking apple and a cox’s apple, so a bit sweeter than your usual cooking apple so I used less sugar.  Depending on which kind of apples you have you can vary the amount of sugar that you put with the apples.

Delia Smith’s Baked Apple & Almond Pudding

Serves 4

450g apples, peeled cored and chopped

50g soft light brown sugar (although dark will work too I reckon)

110g butter (or margerine in my case)

110g caster sugar (or granulated or light brown)

2 eggs, beaten

110g chopped almonds (or flaked blanched ones in my case)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.  Grease an ovenproof baking dish.
  2. Put the apples and brown sugar in a saucepan and cook on a low heat until softened.  Place in the bottom of the prepared dish.
  3. Cream the butter and remaining sugar together until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar a bit at a time and beat well to avoid curdling.
  5. Mix the almonds in the mixture, pour over the appples (ensure they’re well covered) and bake on a high shelf in the oven for an hour.
  6. Take out the oven when golden on top and filling the kitchen with yummy smells.
  7. Serve with custard, cream or icecream and enjoy!
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Delia does Christmas (cakes)

Hello world!  Wow first post.

To demonstrate how contrary I am, after writing how this blog is about simple things, my first blog is on Christmas cakes!  Delia Smith’s to be precise.  But do not be scared because actually Christmas cakes are not difficult.  They aren’t easy either but that’s more to do with the time it takes than any technical complicatedness.

I baked the Christmas cakes 2 weeks ago at the start of October.  Some would probably say this is a bit late, but I don’t really care.  October is acceptable I think.  The reason for baking a cake this early on is it needs time to sit.  A good Christmas cake needs time to mature and be fed brandy.  And no, there is that much fat and preserved goods in this cake – it physcially cannot go off.  In fact, in baking the cakes I found a small bit of one leftover from last year at the bottom of my cake tin and it tasted delicious – and that was at least a year old!

You cannot count calories on a Christmas cake, if you even think about it you’ll give yourself a heart attack.  But Christmas is not a time for dieting and besides the cake is so rich you only eat small amounts anyway.  Ignore the calories and save the diet for January.

I made 4 cakes.  I did this because I’m a masochist and because I have an original Kenwood Chef kindly donated to me by my grandmother-in-law.  Do not attempt this many cakes without one.  Your arm will literally fall off!  But if you have one, I figure, if you’re doing 1 you may as well do 4 because it’s just more ingredients.  Unfortunately, 4 cakes take 3 hours to mix!  And then you’ve got about 4.5-5 hours of baking on top of that!   But because of all the ingredients, even if you’re doing 1 you should give yourself a clear afternoon at least.

Anyway, enough of me rambling.  To the recipe.  Now, copyright forbids me from reproducing it here in its entirety, but here is a link and an extract

“This, with no apologies, is a Christmas cake that has been in print since 1978, has been made and loved by thousands and is, along with the Traditional Christmas Pudding, one of the most popular recipes I’ve produced. It is rich, dark and quite moist, so will not suit those who like a crumblier texture. Recently we took some of these cakes along to book-signing sessions up and down the country and were quite amazed to see so many people take a mouthful and then buy a book!”

I think when it comes to things baked, and especially traditional and cakes, there is no one better than the queen of cooking – Delia.  I don’t use her for everything but this cake recipe is to die for!  When I first started baking Christmas cakes 3 years ago, I used a Cranks recipe but whilst it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t Delia either.  If you like the crumblier cake that she refers to, you may find the Cranks recipe more to your liking.

But I used Delia for the first time last year and well, if it’s still delicious a year later, you can’t complain!  I didn’t change much in the recipe, except I had to do some of the cakes without cherries and almonds and some with, so I decorated the ones with almonds with flaked almonds on the top so I knew which ones they were when they were done.  If you have nut allergies or don’t like cherries, add an equivalent weight in other fruit (more sultanas will do the trick – they’re the cheapest of the shrivelled grapes) otherwise you’ll find you have too much batter and the cake takes longer to cook.

The other thing Delia doesn’t mention but I picked up from the Cranks recipe (and possibly my mother-in-law as well) is to wrap your tins on the outside in paper.  Any paper will do – newspaper, wrapping paper, brown paper, whatever.  Don’t use expensive baking paper.  That’s for lining the tins.  Although I ran out so I didn’t line my tins I just greased them well and used push out bottom tins (I can’t remember the correct name) and a hot knife (dip in boiling water) to pry the bottom of the cake off the bottom.  You’re supposed to fix the paper round the outside with string but I’ve used sellotape, parcel tape, string, cotton, and none of it made any difference or burned.  The reason for the paper is it stops the tin from over heating with the long cooking times. The baking paper on top of the cakes helps too.

Returning to this recipe though, Delia is right , it takes at least 4 hours and there’s no point looking before then, whatever smells are coming out the kitchen.  The only thing I’d check for is burning tops (maybe 3 hours or so in) and if they are, turn down the heat, or if you have more than 1 cake, rotate their positions in the oven.  I always find the cake at the front needs 45minutes – 1 hour longer than the ones at the back.

Once the cakes are cooked, cooled (the escaping crumbs and currants attached to the papers sneakily eaten), and fed with brandy; double or triple wrap them in cling film and store them in a cake tin (I use old bicuit tins, panetone tins or anything that’s more or less air tight and good for storage).  Take them out every few weeks and feed them some more brandy until about a week before you’re due to ice.  Then, if you’re doing traditional icing, do your marzipan first, leave out to dry a few days before adding the royal icing.  And yes, to stick, any jam will do, but something that doesn’t taste of much, like apricot, and without much fruit (you don’t want lumps – but not jelly either) is best. The best thing about icing is it covers any mistakes in baking (lost corners, slightly burnt tops, etc).

And ta da, a wonderful Christmas cake, for your friends and family (and you) to enjoy come 25th December.  It is worth the wait.  I promise.  Don’t cheat and eat it early – remember all good things need to be fed brandy and have time to mature.  At least according to my mother-in-law!  And to be honest, she’s rarely wrong, especially when it comes to baking.


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