• Mince pies and all things Christmas

    Okay, I have to let you into a bit of a secret.  Last year when I was working at Lynwood & Co I was responsible for making the mince pies at Christmas.  As you will know from my posts at the time these went down very well, especially with the gentleman (and photographer) who lives in the flat above the Coln Community Stores.  What I didn’t mention at the time was that while the mince pies were indeed delicious, they were made with ready-made puff pastry and mincemeat.   I was just responsible for cutting the pastry to shape (the bases and stars); filling the pastry shells; baking them (of course to perfection – tongue firmly in cheek) and dusting them with a light dusting of icing sugar.  As we had to make a lot of them at Lynwood & Co, it would not have been commercially viable to make the mincemeat or the pastry from scratch on a regular basis.

    However, chatting to one of the regular customers at the Coln Community Stores recently, she mentioned that she enjoyed almond pastry mince pies.  Intrigued by her suggestion and also feeling that I should at least make mincemeat from scratch once in my life, I set about finding a recipe for almond mince pies.  It didn’t take long to find a recipe on the Delicious magazine website.

    The first step was to make the mincemeat.  I didn’t realise that making mincemeat was such a prolonged process (okay, I exaggerate, but it did take longer than I thought it would).  The first thing I needed to do was leave all of the mixed, mincemeat ingredients overnight to macerate.  The following day the mincemeat was cooked out at a low temperature for a couple of hours before placing it in steralised jars.  I left my mincemeat to ‘mature’ for a couple of days (not much time to mature, I know, but I was keen to try out the mince pies).  I then set about making the almond shortcrust pastry, which was relatively straight forward, albeit a bit more fragile than normal shortcrust pastry.  I chose to make mince pies topped with almond pastry stars rather than ‘lids’.  After 20 minutes in the oven, the pastry stars were still looking a bit anaemic so I left my pies in the oven for another 5 minutes.  In retrospect I should have only cooked them for a couple more minutes instead of 5 minutes as although not a mitigated disaster the pastry was still a bit over-baked.  That being said, overall, I think the pies tasted relatively good.  I took a couple to my Mum’s house and as my greatest critic, she was quick to point out that although she liked the pies, she felt that the mincemeat could have matured more before using.  She was correct of course (although don’t tell her), as the alcohol was still quite strong.

    With my Mum’s voice ringing in my ears, I left my mincemeat to mature for about 10 days before I incorporated it into another bake.  This time a Christmas cake, which just happened to be another recipe from Delicious magazine; a recipe for spiced rum butter mincemeat cake.  As I already had my own mincemeat, I used this instead of the rum butter mincemeat suggested in the recipe.

    I have to say that despite being on this planet for over half a century, this was the first Christmas cake that I have ever made. I have made many a fruit loaf or malted fruit loaf but never a Christmas cake.  What I found interesting about the bake, was that I had to line the tin with two layers of baking paper on the inside and newspaper on the the outside, as well as a wadge of newspaper underneath.  On top of all this protection from the heat and drying out during a two hour bake, I then had to cover the cake with a double layer of baking paper with a small hole cut out in the centre.  After two hours, the cake was looking well baked, albeit slightly under-coloured on top.  I took the decision to cook the cake for a little longer without the baking paper on top to get it a little more coloured.  While I don’t think this was entirely the wrong decision, I think I should have possibly left it as the recipe said – a two hour bake.

    No sooner had I baked and cooled the cake, and before I had time to wrap it and feed it alcohol for Christmas, my husband suggested that the cake would not last until Christmas.  He was right.  When I came home from work the next day, half the cake had disappeared.  My husband had taken it with him on a business trip to Holland, where he proceeded to eat most of it for breakfast on the few days that he was away.  As the cake was half eaten, I felt that there was no point trying to save the other half until Christmas so I have had a few pieces since then.  It is a lovely flavoursome cake with a boozy kick.  The only thing I would change if I made the cake again (as I suggested earlier) is reduce the baking time slightly as the cake is slightly crumbly – possibly the result of being slightly over-baked or otherwise being so jam-packed with fruit.

    As I was finishing my blog post, one of my neighbours knocked on the door and asked whether I would make 48 mince pies for the Coln Community Stores volunteers’ Christmas party.  Although I enjoyed the almond mince pies, I am not sure whether the almond pastry is my favourite, so I think I may need to experiment a bit before the 10 December.  I will keep you posted.  In the meantime, I will leave you with the mincemeat recipe that I used in my almond pastry mince pies and Christmas cake, as this is definitely a winner.

    Mince meat

    Ingredients

    • 340g sultanas
    • 250g raisins
    • 140g currants
    • 50g dried cranberries, finely chopped
    • 250g Pink Lady apples, peeled and cubed
    • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
    • Zest of 2 oranges, juice of 3
    • 50g candied orange peel
    • 300g dark muscovado sugar
    • 1 ball stem ginger, finely chopped
    • 3 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 ½ tsp cloves
    • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 tsp all spice
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 90g shredded vegetarian suet
    • 90g unsalted butter, melted
    • 150g flaked almonds, toasted
    • 160ml Grand Marnier, or ordinary cognac

    Method

    • Stir the dried fruit together in a large bowl.  Dice the apples and add them to the bowl, grate over the lemon zest; squeeze in the juice and stir to coat the fruit.  Next add the orange zest and juice, sugar, spices, peel, salt and fat then stir until everything is evenly coated. If using ordinary cognac, add the zest of the 3rd orange.  Carefully fold through the almonds. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm spot overnight, stirring occasionally to agitate the flavours.
    • Preheat oven to 90°C fan.   Place the mincemeat to a baking tray, cover the top with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Set aside to cool slightly, and then stir in the alcohol.   Transfer to sealable sterilised jars.
  • Autumnal pizzas

    Scrolling through my Instagram account a couple or so weeks back I came across an OoniHQ post about an autumnal pizza using spiced pumpkin puree instead of tomato sauce, which was topped with zucchini, pine nuts and fresh chilli.

    Scrolling down even further I came across another autumnal pizza topped with butternut squash, chilli, mascarpone, mozzarella and basil.

    Inspired and intrigued by these more unconventional toppings and with a couple of butternut squashes in my fridge from our neighbour who has a very productive vegetable garden, I decided that I would give both of the pizzas a go.

    Not put off by the autumnal weather and the dark (it only added to the theme), my husband, Jo, fired up our UuniPro.  Okay, he didn’t fire up our UuniPro immediately as I had quite a few preparations to do (if you own an UuniPro, you will know that it doesn’t take very long to get to the required temperature) but he did when he knew that I was nearly ready for the pizzas to be cooked.

    When I say that I had a few preparations, I mean the making of the pizza dough and in this case, the making of the pumpkin puree.  If I can say so myself (although they do say that pride comes before a fall), I have got my tried and tested pizza dough down to a fine art.  In the early days, I used to knead the dough by hand but one day when I was pressed for time I decided to use my trusty Kenwood instead.  Releasing 10 minutes of my time to do other preparations, the dough was kneaded just as well with my Kenwood dough hook than by hand.  That being said, I always finish the dough off with a bit of hand kneading before proving, just to ensure that the dough is beautifully smooth and elastic.

    The pumpkin puree was made by simply roasting and pureeing the pumpkin and then adding olive oil, garlic and seasoning.  Once the dough was proven, divided and shaped, the only thing left to do was to top both varieties of the pizza with the pumpkin puree, add the respective toppings and bake them in my UuniPro.  I should possibly mention that Ooni’s recipe for one of the pizzas was for a vegan pizza i.e. pumpkin puree, courgette and chilli.  I added a bit of mozzarella as I am a bit of a cheese fiend.  I am sure that it was not necessary, but I personally loved the addition of a bit of melted mozarella.

    The result of my husband and my toil was two vibrant and delicious varieties of pizza.  Warming to look at and warming to eat (aided of course by the hint of chilli on both) – perfect for an autumnal evening.

    Inspired by my autumnal pizza experimentation, I used the remaining two portions of pizza dough the following night to make another non-tomato based pizza.  This time, I topped my pizza dough with a mound of mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil and garlic.  To this, I added a generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, mascarpone and Parmesan before baking.  With the final addition of fresh parsley before serving, Jo and I tucked into another delicious pizza.  I have to say that this concoction was a treat for the taste buds and definitely one to be repeated.

    Having bought our UuniPro this year, I have definitely been stretching myself (and a lot of pizza dough) when it comes to pizza toppings.  With the ideas on Ooni’s Instagram and Facebook pages, as well as their website, I don’t think I will ever be short of ideas.

  • At Nigella’s table

    For quite some time now we have not had access to terrestrial TV.   In the absence of terrestrial TV, I got a little hooked on Netflix.  Initially, it was ‘research’ where I watched almost every cookery programme on Netflix:

    • Chef’s Table
    • Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip
    • Cook your Ass Off
    • Martha Bakes
    • Rebel Without a Kitchen
    • Sugar Rush
    • Ugly Delicious
    • Zumbo’s Just Desserts

    After almost exhausting what Netflix had to offer cookery-wise, I have to admit that I got a little hooked on ‘box sets’, watching back to back episodes over a short period of time.  Not a good use of my time when I should have been concentrating my efforts on setting up a business.

    Anyway after being devoid of terrestrial television for a while, I was delighted to be able to watch a range of cookery programmes when our aerial was finally fixed; programmes like The Great British Menu; Great British Bake Off and At Nigella’s Table.

    Not long after I started watching At Nigella’s Table, Nigella made a ginger and walnut carrot cake.  As a huge fan of ginger, I loved the fact that the cake contained three types: ground ginger, crystalised ginger and fresh ginger.   I first made the cake a month back and it was met with great enthusiasm when I took it into the Coln Community Stores for my colleagues to try.   The second incarnation of Nigella’s ginger and walnut carrot cake was a celebration cake for my mother’s 78th Birthday today (5th November).   My plan was to use the ginger and walnut carrot cake as a base for a bonfire style cake.  The colours of the cake lent themselves to being a bonfire cake, as did the crystallised ginger and walnut pieces  which decorated the cream cheese icing.  Despite having an excellent base, I wanted to elevate the cake by topping it with honeycomb and caramel shards; so yesterday morning my mission began.  I started by making the cake and the icing.  While the cake was baking and the icing was cooling in the fridge I turned my attention to making the honeycomb and caramel shards.  Working with sugar is always a potentially difficult task, as not heating it enough will give you an insipid and poorly set end result.  Heating it too much will make the end result too dark with a burnt taste.  It was my lucky day and both the honeycomb and caramel came out as I had hoped.  The only thing I would have changed was to use a non-textured baking paper and tray as my honeycomb had a bit of an unwanted texture to it.

    With all my component parts made, I assembled my cake.  I iced my ginger and walnut carrot cake with a generous layer of cream cheese icing, flavoured with fresh ginger and topped it with a scattering of crystallised ginger and walnut pieces.  I then added my shards of honeycomb and caramel.  I left adding my shards to the last moment as I knew that the moisture in the icing would start to dissolve the sugar in the honeycomb and caramel.  I then crossed my fingers hoping that all would be well at the big reveal at my Mum’s Birthday lunch.  The aim was to add sparklers at the last moment for a grand bonfire cake.  Unfortunately it was not to be.  The pub was so warm that the heat contributed to the melting of the shards (not completely, but the shards became a little wilted in the heat).  To add insult to injury, I was not allowed to bring out the cake at dessert time (the pub required us to eat their desserts), so I didn’t add the ‘crowning’ glory, the sparklers , to my bonfire extravaganza.  With my family dissipating in different directions after lunch, the best I could do is send them off with pieces of carrot cake without its crowning glory.  Thank goodness I took a photo of the cake with its honeycomb and caramel shards before we headed off for lunch.  However, despite this my vision for my bonfire cake was never fully realised.

    Irrespective of my slight disappointment, nothing can take away from the fact that Nigella’s cake, without any added decoration, is a triumph in itself.  So much so that I am sharing it with you below.

    Ginger and walnut carrot cake

     Ingredients

     Cake

    •  200g plain flour
    • 1tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 2 tsp ground ginger
    • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
    • 175g soft light brown sugar
    • 2 large free-range eggs at room temperature
    • 200ml vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
    • 200g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
    • 100g walnut pieces, roughly chopped, plus extra for decorating
    • 75g crystallised ginger, finely chopped, plus extra for decorating

    Icing

    • 100g butter, softened
    • 100g icing sugar, sieved if lumpy
    • 1 tsp cornflour
    • 100g cream cheese
    • 1 tbsp coarsely grated fresh ginger

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 150C Fan and grease the sides and line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper.
    • Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and salt together in a bowl.
    • Beat the sugar, eggs and oil in another large bowl until they are completely mixed together, then gradually add the flour mixture. At this stage the mixture may seem alarmingly stiff, but the carrots will loosen it up. Beat in the carrots and then fold in the walnuts and crystallised ginger, until everything is evenly combined.
    • Spoon into the prepared tin. Don’t worry if it looks as if you haven’t got enough batter, as the cake will rise well as it bakes. Smooth the top and bake for 55 minutes (as much as an hour). When it’s ready, the cake will be set and golden-brown on top, beginning to shrink away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out with just a few crumbs stuck to it. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool in its tin.
    • Meanwhile, to make the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar together and when combined, beat in the cornflour, followed by half the cream cheese. Once that’s incorporated, beat in the remaining half. Be careful not to over-beat or the icing will get too runny. Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into the bowl and mix in, discard the ginger flesh. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge.
    • When the cake is completely cold, take the icing out of the fridge for about 20 minutes. Beat briefly to make sure it’s smooth. Remove the cake from its tin and place on a plate or cake stand. Spread the icing on top, swirling it a little, then sprinkle some chopped walnuts and crystallised ginger on top.

    Source: www.bbc.com (Nigella Lawson)

  • Baked green tomatoes at Main Street, Coln St Aldwyns

    My very lovely colleague at the Coln Community Stores had an abundance of green tomatoes which he didn’t know what to do with, so he gave them to me.

    He said that he knew that I you could make fried green tomatoes and chutney with them but he wasn’t sure what else you could make out of green tomatoes.  He challenged me to come up with some ideas.  Green tomato chutney was definitely on the list when I searched for green tomato recipes on the Internet.  Green tomato and bacon soup was also one of the results.  Not long into my search I came across an article entitled ’15 fabulous green tomato recipes’ by The Spruce Eats.  Their suggestions included:

    • green tomato rice
    • easy fried green tomatoes
    • sweetcorn and green tomato fritters
    • bacon, lettuce and friend green tomato sandwich
    • green tomato soup with country ham
    • green tomato ketchup
    • green tomato relish
    • green tomato cake
    • sweet and tangy green tomato pickles
    • green tomato pie
    • green tomato quick bread

    Intrigued by the idea of a green tomato cake, but inspired to make a green tomato pie, I searched the Internet for green tomato pies to see which one I liked best.  After a bit of a search, I found a recipe by Roti n Rice ( www.rotinrice.com) for a green tomato pie which appealed to me even more than the one offered by The Spruce Eats.

    After trying one of the green tomatoes raw (it was quite bitter), I started to doubt my choice of recipe, but having already made the pastry, which was slightly sweetened with sugar, I thought I would persevere.  I am glad that I did.  The tart, with layers of cheddar cheese, caramelised onions and green tomatoes, topped with herbs, feta and mint was absolutely delicious.  It certainly did not feed the number it was intended to feed (eight) and we wolfed down half the tart in no time at all.  Although the tart was delicious, there are two things I would do differently if (or when) I cook the tart again: (1) I would use a shallower tart tin as the ratio of filling to pastry was not quite right and (2) I would bake the pastry less as it was a little too brown, albeit that the colour of the pastry did not detract from the overall taste of the tart.

    So pleased was I with the result that I have decided to share the recipe with you:

    Ingredients:

    Pastry

    • 200g cup plain flour
    • 1 tbsp icing sugar
    • 85g cold salted butter (cubed)
    • 3 to 4 tbsp cold water

    Filling

    • 28g butter
    • 2 medium onions (thinly sliced)
    • 170g grated cheese
    • 450g green cherry tomatoes (halved)
    • ½ tsp dried thyme
    • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
    • ½ tsp salt

     Garnish

    • 30g feta
    • 5g mint

    Method:

    Pastry/Tart case

    1. Place plain flour, icing sugar, and cold salted butter into a bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour and sugar mixture until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Add cold water and mix until a sticky dough forms.
    2. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a disc and wrap in cling film.   Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
    3. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
    4. Remove the dough from the fridge.  Unwrap the dough and roll into a 30 cm circle.
    5. Place the rolled-out dough into a 23 cm loose bottom tart tin.  Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the tart tin. Trim the dough to the edges of the tart tin.
    6. Prick the dough with a fork. Line the dough with baking paper and baking beans and bake for 15 minutes.

    Filling

    1. While the tart case is in the oven, melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the onions and cook until light golden (about 10 minutes).

    Putting the tart together

    1. Remove the tart case out of the oven and increase the oven temperature to 200 degrees Celsius.
    2. Layer 115g of grated cheese evenly over the tart crust followed by the caramelised onions.
    3. Arranged the halved green cherry tomatoes on the top of the caramelised onions.
    4. Sprinkle dried thyme, ground pepper, and salt over the tomatoes. Bake for 30 minutes.
    5. Remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle the remaining 55g of grated cheese over the top.  Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

    Garnish

    1. Remove tart from the oven. Sprinkle the feta and mint leaves over the top.  Serve.

    [Source: Roti n Rice]

    Happy baking