Mince Pies

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Our mince pies went down really well at the café. I assembled the recipe by combining three different ones, but lost it. I tried making it again, but they turned out differently. Thankfully, I think I know what went wrong, so here is the reconstructed recipe. Please not that this isn’t a budget recipe at all. Mince pies are quite work and cost intensive, which was the original idea.

2 cooking apples such as Bramley
1 cup of Brandy
500g mix of raisins, sultanas, etc. I used a fruit mix from Waitrose, which also has a bit of pineapple in it
1 veg or standard suet
250g soft brown sugar
1 bag dried cranberries (or use fresh ones)
handful of dried, chopped plums
handful of dried, chopped apricots
a few dates, stoned and chopped
vanilla sugar or some other vanilla
pot of mixed peel (about 100g)
juice and grated peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1/2 ground nutmeg
small bag of flaked almonds
dash of cinnamon (not too much)
small grated ginger root
a few ground cloves

The cranberries were super nice, and one recipe also used grated carrot, which seemed like a nice addition. Wasn’t so sure about the same recipe adding glacé cherries, but cocktail cherries might be a nice addition, if you like almond flavour.

Pour brandy over the raisin based fruit mix. Soak for a few hours. Add all other ingredients, and slowly heat and simmer for about an hour. Suet, sugar and juice needs to have soaked into the fruit really well. If too try, add citrus fruit juice. Mandarin juice is also nice.

Ladle hot mixture into sterilised jars and leave to sit for at least 2 weeks. If you like booze, top the jars up with a little bit more brandy.

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When it’s mince pie time, make some pastry and also add a few things to your mincemeat to lift it up a bit. I added 1 large chopped bramley apple and some fresh orange peel and juice (or you can chop in some satsumas).

mincemeat

Pastry recipe:

375g plain flour
250g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar or combination of caster and icing sugar
1 large egg
vanilla flavouring

plus
1 beaten egg, mixed with bit of milk for glazing
and icing sugar for dusting

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Combine ingredients for pastry and place dough in the fridge for at least 30 mins.
Roll out dough and cut out circles with a cookie cutter, a cup/bowl or other device. Place discs on top of the moulds on the tray and gently push them down. Make sure, you have put a stick of non-stick paper in them, so that you can lift the mince pies out more easily. You can also butter and flour the moulds, if no baking parchment is at hand.
Next, spoon in some of the filling. Lastly, cut out some star or other shapes from the rolled-out dough to cover the pies. Brush them with the egg-milk mixture.

Put mince pies in the oven for about 15-20 mins at 200 degrees celsius.

Before serving, dust with icing sugar!

Carrot cake

carrotcake

I hadn’t made carrot cake for a long time, after being repeatedly traumatised by enforced commercial carrot cake consumption. I now have to make lots of them for the café, so I started experimenting again. The other night, a friend told me she was going to be in town the next morning, and, as I had some carrots in the fridge, I decided to bake her an experimental version, using whatever was in the house. The recipe worked really well, and a super fussy friend said that it was the best carrot cake he’s ever eaten.

Cake dough:
175 light brown caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla flavouring
175 ml sunflower oil
3 eggs
2 large carrots, grated
1 banana, mashed (I know, a bit of a sacrilege, but it works really well!)
large handful of raisins or similar, finely chopped
handful of pecans, chopped (didn’t have walnuts, but pecans worked really well, if not better!)
a handful of crushed almond flakes (needed using up!)
grated orange peel
a bit of freshly grated nutmeg
a little bit of cinnamon (I really don’t like overpowering cinnamon taste in this)
175 g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Icing:
a few heaped spoonfuls of icing sugar
about 50g butter
a few scoops of cream cheese, strained yoghurt or quark

Combine all ingredients for the dough. If too runny, add a little more flour. Fill into rectangular box tin (loaf tin) and bake for approximately 1 hour.

Make a creamy icing by combining icing sugar with room temperature butter and whatever tangy milk products you have in the house. I only had quark, so I used that. I’m quite partial to cream cheese icing, so I would have preferred that, but the quark icing was nice and fresh, too.

Pepper & pear soup

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There are many people who don’t like mixing fruit & veg, or whatever is culturally, rather than botanically, defined as such. I’m not one of them. I love mixing flavours across categories. I first encountered pepper & pear soup at a café called The Crypt in Glasgow. It’s an amazing place inside an old church that offers simple, but tasty meals to students and other people in the vicinity of the university. Their soups are always excellent, and pepper and pear is my favourite one. They have published a little booklet with recipes, but I have lost it while moving back to London.

The main thing about making pepper and pear soup is that you have water, red peppers and pears. Everything else around it can be improvised. Basically, the fewer ingredients, the longer you cook it at a lower heat to draw out all of the flavour. Tonight’s recipe included:

3 red peppers
2 Williams pears
2 shallots
1/2 red chilli
tomato puree
vegetable stock

Cut the peppers into halves and roast them under a grill or over a gas flame/open fire/barbecue until the skin is charred. Peel off the skin and cut the peppers into pieces.

Heat oil in a pot or sauce pan, but not too hot. Peel and chop the shallots and pears. Add to the pot along with the pepper pieces and the chopped chilli. Stir for a while.

Next, add the vegetable stock. Cook everything until tender and blend until smooth. If too liquid or too bland, add tomato puree, a bit of sugar and/or more vegetable stock.

You can also add other vegetables – many people add carrots and herbs – but I prefer the soup quite basic. Try to get very flavoursome peppers and pears, though the soup will also work with blander types.

I usually have the soup with bread, butter & raspberry jam.

Cornmeal banana porridge

I’m currently working at a British-Caribbean café, and one of the things that they do is cornmeal banana porridge. It is the most amazing thing, and not only great for breakfast. There are infinite variations of it, and I’ve been experimenting with different ingredients at home. Cornmeal banana porridge is especially handy for people with gluten intolerance, and even vegan versions can be made.

This is my current favourite:

1 banana (ripeness depending on your own personal taste)
about 1 cup of milk
generous dash of evaporated milk
vanilla sugar
a few spoonfuls of superfine cornmeal

Blend all ingredients and heat them in a small pot, stirring constantly. Once the porridge begins to thicken, regulate the thickness with milk. I like mine neither very thick nor runny.

For a vegan porridge, use coconut milk and/or cream.

You can also add plantain (as in the above video) for a more substantial porridge, add various spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg, or vary the types of sweeteners (e.g. honey, syrups, overripe bananas). I also like a combination of cow’s milk and coconut milk. The one thing I haven’t tried out is adding other types of ‘bits’ (nuts, fruit etc) or flours (e.g. coconut or almond flour). It often depends what’s in the house.

Rose lemonade

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It’s summer! Well, sort of, in the UK… Been been trying out different types of lemonades, partly because of a glut of mint, basil and rose water/rose syrup. Am working my way through various experiments. Here is my fail safe rose lemonade:

500 ml water (still or carbonated)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon of honey + a large shot of rose water OR: a large shot of rose (or rose and elderflower) syrup
small bunch of mint leaves

Put mint leaves into an empty resealable glass bottle. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the mint. Seal bottle and chill. Tastes good fresh, but for a mintier taste wait until the following day.

Basil and other herb experiments to follow…

Fish stew

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I have patched this recipe together from various ones that are available on the net, adding my own bits and pieces. For a vegetarian version, leave away the fish and use a condiment such as maggi seasoning, marmite or miso paste.

5 shallots (or 2 medium onions)
3 cloves of garlic
tsp fennel seeds, 5 ground cloves, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika to taste
oil for frying
5 carrots
5 sticks of celery
1 big fennel bulb or 2 small ones
1 large carton or 1 bottle of passata (and/or tomato puree with water)
fish sauce or clam juice
optional: juniper berries
haddock (or other fish) and/or (large) prawns

Chop the shallots into strips, fry with sliced garlic, fennel seeds, cayenne pepper, cloves and smoked paprika. Add sliced carrots, celery and fennel and stir on low heat until partially cooked. Now add enough passata to cover the vegetables. Adjust thickness with more passata, water and/or tomato puree. Add juniper berries. When everything is cooked, add fish and/or prawns (vegetarians could used quorn or fried halloumi, but the stew is also nice by itself).

As with most stews, it tastes good on the day, but even better the next. I usually cook the veg base, then leave it until the next day and then add the fish/prawns.

Fish tacos

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Today, there was lots of reduced fish in the supermarket, and also a number of very small cabbages, so I put two and two together and made fish tacos! I used to make them with guacamole and salsa, but a visit to the US convinced me to switch to experiments with coleslaw. Here is my latest version:

1 small red cabbage
2 shallots (I used the small round ones, not the long ones)
juice of 1-2 limes
good quality oil
salt
grated garlic
fresh coriander, chopped
chopped red chillies

Slice cabbage and onions in the food processor, or pass them through a sharp grater. Add remaining ingredients.

Fish tacos can be made with any fish that doesn’t fall apart so easily. Today, I used sword fish, because it was reduced to £1.50 a piece. I marinated the pieces in a mixture of oil, lime, paprika, smoked paprika, salt and garlic, and fried them in a mixture of the same, with some more paprika dusted on them. They were so good, the neighbours’ cat climbed onto the roof next door to jump through my kitchen window!

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