low sugar mincemeat

20161210_191103I know I’ve written about mincemeat before, but we’ve been on a bit of a dietary adventure over the past six months, eating a low carb/high fat diet to alleviate Chris’s Type 2 diabetes – and it’s worked!  So we’ve been thinking about adapting many of our favourite recipes to cut down on the carbohydrates.  This version of mincemeat contains only 50g of  added “half and half” sucrose/stevia.  It is not low-calorie, as the dried fruits contain high levels of fructose, but this is absorbed more slowly than other sugars and so is better for diabetics. In any case there’s only a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in a mince pie anyway.  Oh, and it’s also suitable for vegans as it contains no animal products.

  • 200g vegetable suet
  • 300g cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 50g whole almonds, chopped into slivers
  • 200g dried apricots, chopped small
  • 140 g raisins
  • 300g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 150g dates
  • 150g prunes
  • 50g brown sugar with stevia (by Tate & Lyle)
  • 4 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest and juice of 2 large clementines
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

Put the dates and prunes into a food processor and blitz to a paste. Put in a big ovenproof bowl with all the other ingredients except the brandy, and mix it all together thoroughly. Leave it overnight, covered in a cloth.  In the morning, take off the cloth, stir the mixture well and cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Place the bowl in a very low oven (gas mark 1/4, 110 degrees C) for 3 hours, then take it out of the oven. As it cools, give the mixture a stir occasionally. When it’s completely cooled down, stir in the brandy (be generous – and maybe add a splash of Pedro Ximenez sherry as well; after all, it is Christmas…) and mix well, then spoon into sterilised jars and seal with acid-proof lids and wax discs, or parfait jars with rubber seals.

This makes just under 3kg of mincemeat (about 6 normal sized jamjars).

 

Biscotti

IMG_20151228_182522The week between Christmas and New Year – a time for pootling about and trying new stuff that I wouldn’t normally have the time to do. So I’ve had a crack at making biscotti, to be dipped in vin santo (or Pedro Ximenez sherry, or a dessert wine). You can dip them in coffee or hot chocolate too.

  • 150g almonds with the skin on
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of a lemon
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 3 small ones)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C or gas mark 6. Put the almonds on a baking tray and bake for five minutes, then take them out and chop them very roughly when they have cooled down a bit.

While the almonds are in the oven, you have the time to weigh out the rest of the ingredients.  Start with the sugar, then grate the lemon zest into it and mix well.  Then add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix that well.  Beat the 2 eggs in a separate bowl, then stir them into the mix too, along with the almonds.  Stir it all together until it forms a dough.  It will be quite sticky.

Sift some icing sugar onto a worktop. Split the dough into two and roll each part into a sausage just long enough to put onto a baking tray – this will be about 5cm in diameter.  Make sure the two sausages are well separated as they will spread a lot on the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes.  Take the tray out of the oven and reduce the heat to about 150 degrees C.  After about 10 minutes of cooling down, slide the now flattened sausages onto a chopping board and use a sharp bread knife to cut them into diagonal slices about 1cm in width.  This is a bit of a guessing game – if you leave them to cool for too long they’ll be difficult to cut, and if they are too hot you’ll squash them.

Put the slices back on the baking tray and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes – take them out, turn them over and put back in for another 15 minutes.  When you take them out for the final time, put them on a wire rack to cool down completely. You can them put them in an airtight biscuit tin. They should keep for at least a month.

Christmas puddings 2015

IMG_20151122_180954[1]Rather than make one big pud, this year we decided to make loads of little ones.  This is because we found some small plastic pudding basins in our favourite cook shop,  Cooksmill on Regent Road in Salford.  I could quite happily spend an hour just mooching about in there, fantasising about what I could do with an industrial-size food processor and mixing bowls the size of hot tubs.

This mixture made about 10 small quarter-pint puddings, or you could use one enormous 3 pint bowl (that’s just over 1.5 litres in new money).  The quantities below were made up of the dried fruits we had in the cupboard, but as long as you get 450g in total you could put in whatever you like.  The prunes are important though – they add a nice squidgy texture.  As with Christmas cakes, bear in mind that you need to assemble your ingredients well in advance of making this, as the longer you leave the dried fruits soaking the better it will be. Pedro Ximenez sherry tastes like liquid Christmas pudding anyway, so it’s a perfect thing for soaking Christmas pudding fruit.  The other thing to remember is that the first time you steam your puddings they will need about 3 hours if they’re all in small bowls, or up to 5 hours if it’s one big one, so do it on a day when you don’t need to stray much from the house.

  • 150g currants
  • 125g dried morello cherries
  • 75g prunes
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g dried figs (figgy pudding,innit…)
  • 175ml Pedro Ximenez sherry, or brandy, or a mixture of the two
  • 100g plain flour
  • 125g breadcrumbs
  • 150g vegetarian suet
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 30ml honey (2 tablespoons)
  • butter for greasing the bowls

Cut up the dried figs and prunes into small pieces (scissors are best for this), and put them in a bowl with the other dried fruits.  Pour over the sherry/brandy, mix it about a bit and then cover the bowl in clingfilm.  You can leave the fruit to soak up the alcohol for anything up to a week.

When you’re ready to start making the pudding, set up your steamer or double boiler, or just a big pan of water with a trivet in the bottom would do.  Get the water simmering.  Then grease your bowl or bowls with a bit of butter, not forgetting the lids if your bowls come with them. If they don’t have a lid, you can improvise with a piece of greased baking paper, a double thickness of foil, and string to tie it onto the top of the bowl.

Use a big mixing bowl and mix together all the ingredients except the dried fruits – it’s easiest to start with the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, mix well, then add the lemon zest, apple, and honey last.  Then add the dried fruit mixture and all the sherry/brandy juices, and mix well.  At this point it’s traditional to ask every member of the family to stir the pudding and make a wish, especially if you’re making the pudding on Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. Divide the mixture between the individual pudding bowls or just plonk it in t.he one big bowl if that’s what you’re using.  Press down the mixture so that there are no air gaps, and put on the lid.  Place the pudding bowls in the steamer/double boiler/big pan and allow them to steam for a couple of hours for the small puds, or up to 5 hours for one big one.  Check the water level every hour or so to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.  Leave the puddings to cool after the appropriate cooking time, then take them out of the pan, dry off the outside of the bowls and put them somewhere cool and dark until you need them.

On Christmas day you can either set them to steam again for a couple of hours, or stick them in the microwave for 5 minutes until they’re piping hot (although I wouldn’t recommend using the microwave method for a single big pudding).   Turn them out of their bowls onto a plate, pour over a bit of heated brandy and set it alight
(although vodka seems to light better than brandy, it doesn’t add anything to the taste). Traditionally served with a sprig of holly for decoration, and brandy sauce.

 

Christmas cake 2015

IMG_20151122_181718[1]There are hundreds of different recipes out there, but having tried Nigella’s last year I think this is just about the easiest both in terms of shopping for ingredients and in baking it.  This is my take on it. Quantities below are for one small 18cm round or 15cm square cake.  If you double up the mixture this will make a 23cm round or 20cm square cake but will take much longer to cook.  Soak the fruit in any type of aromatic spirit (I used a mixture of Scotch and brandy as that’s what I had available!), or use bourbon if you want to go the full Domestic Goddess route. Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature before you start mixing – take them out of the fridge the night before. Nigella suggests adding a teaspoon of almond extract but I don’t think it’s necessary, especially if the cake is going to be covered in marzipan before icing. This is quite an easy cake to put together, but you do need to bear in mind that you need to start preparing the ingredients a good 24 hours before you’re ready to bake it.

  • 350g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 50g glace cherries, cut in half
  • 75g chopped walnuts
  • 200ml whisky, brandy or bourbon
  • 150g butter
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • quarter teaspoon ground cloves
  • quarter teaspoon ground ginger

Put the raisins, currants and cherries in a small saucepan and pour over the spirit of your choice.  Bring the mixture to the boil then remoove it from the heat, give it a good stir, then cover it and leave it overnight.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C or gas mark 2.  Line your cake tin with a double thickness of greaseproof or baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream them together until the sugar granules have disappeared. Then mix in the grated lemon zest. Now add an egg and beat it in well.  Add a spoonful of flour, mix that, then add another egg and beat well.  Now add in the black treacle.  A good tip to get treacle out of the tin is to heat up the spoon over a gas flame fora few seconds, or dunk it in a cup of boiling water, before putting your spoon in the tin.  The heat will help the treacle slide off the spoon more easily.

Mix the flour, spices and ground almonds together in a separate bowl (you really don’t need to sieve flour these days, unless you’re still buying it from a grocer’s shop where they scoop out your flour from a big sack on the floor….).  Add a big spoonful of flour mix followed by a big spoonful of the soaked dried fruit and mix well. Continue like this until all the flour and all the fruit is incorporated.  Then add the chopped walnuts and give the mixture one last stir to distribute the nuts evenly through it.

Put the mixture into your cake tin.  A silicone spatula is a great tool for getting the last scrapings out of the mixing bowl.  Level off the  mixture in the tin as much as you can, then put it in the oven. A small 18cm round cake will take anything between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours to cook, depending on your oven.  A larger 23cm round cake will take about 3 hours, give or take 20 minutes either side. The easiest way to test if your cake is done is to stick a thin metal skewer right into the middle, leave it there for a few seconds, then pull it out. If the skewer has some sticky cake mixture on it, the cake’s not done yet.  If it comes out and looks clean, the cake is baked all the way through.  Take it out of the oven and brush the top with a tablespoonful of brandy or whisky, turn it out of the tin and wrap it up in a double layer of foil (you can keep the baking paper on it at this point).  The next day, take off all the baking paper and rewrap it in fresh baking paper, then put it in an airtight container.

At this point, your cake is ready for feeding.  Every so often,  unrwap your cake,  prod it all over with a skewer and brush over a couple of tablespoons of whisky or brandy, then wrap it up again .

A small cake will need one pack of marzipan to cover it – anything bigger may require two. You should put the marzipan on the cake a few days before you want to put the icing on.  Use a tablespoon of apricot jam, heated up and sieved, to brush over the cake before you put the rolled out marzipan on – it will help to stick the marzipan onto the cake.  Icing?  I cheat and use ready-rolled fondant!

IMG_20151122_180954[1]

 

No-peel mincemeat

this is what it looks like before you leave it to stand overnight.

this is what it looks like before you leave it to stand overnight.

I can’t stand mixed peel in anything. There are far nicer ways of getting a sharp hit of citrus in food without those chewy, hard, waxy bits of “bacon rind”. Here’s our take on the sainted Delia’s mincemeat recipe, which is a lovely balance of sweet, sharp and fruity, without the mixed peel.

  • 450g Bramley apples, peeled and grated (easiest way is to peel them then use a box grater on the side with the largest holes – no need to core them, just stop grating when you reach the cores).  One big Bramley weighs about 250g.
  • 200g shredded vegetable suet
  • 350g raisins
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 150g soft apricots, chopped
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 50g slivered almonds
  • 4 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • half teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

This makes just under 3kg of mincemeat (about 6 normal sized jamjars).  Mix all of the ingredients together except for the brandy in a large ovenproof  bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave it overnight.

Take off the cloth, stir the mixture well and cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Place the bowl in a very low oven (gas mark 1/4, 110 degrees C) for 3 hours, then take it out of the oven. As it cools, give the mixture a stir occasionally. When it’s completely cooled down, stir in the brandy and put into sterilised jars. Seal them well (wax discs and acid-proof lids, or parfait jars with rubber seals).

This keeps for a really long time in a dark, cool place.  When you open it to use, if it’s looking a bit solid just mix in a bit more brandy.

This recipe is vegan if you use vegetarian suet. It makes absolutely no difference to the flavour whether you use ordinary suet or vegetarian suet as far as I can tell.

filo mini strudels

Something else you can use leftover mincemeat for.

  • 1 packet ready made filo pastry
  • Melted butter
  • 1 jar mincemeat
  • 1 large Bramley apple, peeled and grated

Mix the grated apple with the mincemeat.  Brush a sheet of filo pastry with melted butter and fold in half. Place a spoonful of the apple/mincemeat mixture at one edge, then fold and roll the filo pastry around the apple/mincemeat mixture to make a parcel that looks a bit like a spring roll – the filling should be entirely encased in pastry or it will all burst out the ends. Brush with more melted butter as you fold and roll.  Place the mini strudel on a baking tray, with the trailing edge of the filo underneath (to prevent it unravelling in the oven).  Continue until you have used up all the filo pastry or the mincemeat mixture. Place the baking tray of mini strudels in a medium to hot oven for 10-15 minutes, until the edges of the pastry are crispy and golden.  Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar, with fresh pouring cream or ice cream.

Irish cream liqueur

  • 400g tin of condensed milk
  • 250ml long life UHT single cream (or 200ml full fat UHT milk and 50g sterilised cream, whisked together)
  • 250ml Irish whiskey
  • 1 heaped teaspoon instant coffee powder or granules
  • 2 tablespoons dark chocolate syrup
  • 2 teaspoons caramel syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until mixed. Don’t whizz too much or you’ll end up with alcoholic whipped cream. Put in sterilised bottles and drink within a week – keep in the fridge.

NOTES ON UHT CREAM
Long life or UHT single cream is becoming increasingly difficult to find – Spar shops or Makro are two places that regularly stock it. Don’t be tempted to use cream substitutes like Elmlea, you will regret it. You could use fresh cream but it will only last a couple of days before going off. This year (2016) we tried it with 200ml full fat UHT milk and 50g of Carnation sterilised cream (the stuff in tins that my Nana Margot used to put on tinned peaches as a treat).  It worked OK, I think, but it was quite difficult to get the cream to disperse in the milk.  Whisking the cream and  milk together before putting anything else in seems to be the best method.

The instant coffee powder or granules should be good quality, strong-tasting stuff – espresso type. We’ve not tried this with the new whole bean instant powders like Millicano. I suspect they might be a bit gritty.

Dark chocolate syrup – the best you can find, with a high cocoa content. If not, you can make your own chocolate syrup by heating a spoonful of golden syrup and mixing a spoonful of cocoa into it, but this won’t stay in suspension as well as the ready-made chocolate syrup and you might have to shake your bottles of liqueur before serving to avoid a chocolatey sediment.

Caramel syrup – if you fancy experimenting you could use maple syrup, or a flavoured syrup for coffee such as hazelnut or gingerbread. Monin syrups are perhaps the best known; they seem to be in all the high street coffee chains like Costa. And I used to work for Monin when I was a student many moons ago, so I do feel an odd sense of loyalty to them!

What we learned about Christmas dinner 2013

  1. Tell habitual latecomers that we are sitting down to dinner at 2.15. Tell everyone else 3pm.
  2. Leave the chestnut stuffing in rectangular foil containers – you can fit more in the oven that way.
  3. Frozen sprouts take way longer to cook than you think. And 1kg is enough for 14 people.
  4. Frozen parsnips need to be in a really hot oven to get crispy.
  5. Everybody says they love bread sauce but nobody has more than a tiny spoonful. Make a single quantity of Delia Smith’s recipe – enough for 14!
  6. Make a single quantity of Nigella’s ultimate Christmas pudding – any more and there will be leftovers. The non-conformist Christmas pudding is nice but doesn’t keep as well.
  7. If you make it in advance, freeze the Christmas pudding and defrost on Christmas Eve.
  8. Everybody loves raspberry pavlova.
  9. Stokes horseradish sauce is awesome with rare roast beef.
  10. You can rest an enormous 4-bone rib of beef for up to an hour and it will still be hot.
  11. Perfect roast potatoes require three things – slightly overboiled potatoes, a sprinkling of polenta, and goosefat.
  12. Buy extra bicarb.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

P.S. from 11 January: Christmas cake begins to pall after 3 weeks. Make a small one, and put extra walnuts in it for interesting texture.

Leftover mincemeat? Not in our house

OK so we may be guilty of making industrial quantities of mincemeat, but there’s rarely more than a solitary jar left over every year. Here are two ideas for using up leftover mincemeat, if you should have any.

1. Get a croissant, split it and spread a good spoonful of mincemeat inside. Re-form it into a croissant shape and stick it in a hot oven (or even under the grill) for a few minutes to heat through. Take it out, open it up again and spread some thick cream (or creme fraiche, or clotted cream even) over the hot mincemeat. Re-form it into a croissant shape and eat, remembering that hot mincemeat gets REALLY HOT. Repeat until no croissants are left.

2. Use mincemeat as a base for a Christmassy apple pie or crumble – spread a couple of big spoonfuls over the base of your uncooked pie crust (or pie dish if you’re doing crumble) then proceed as with a normal apple pie or crumble – pile apples on top, add the top crust or the crumble, bake as normal. Yum.

Christmas mincemeat – no mixed peel!

I hate mixed peel and I hate shop-bought mincemeat. So home-made mincemeat it is, courtesy of Delia Smith’s original recipe with a bit of tweaking. Super easy and very satisfying.

  • 1 lb (450 g) Bramley apples, peeled, cored and grated
  • 8 oz (225 g) shredded vegetable suet
  • 12 oz (350 g) raisins
  • 8 oz (225 g) sultanas
  • 8 oz (225 g) currants
  • 8 oz (225 g) a combination of chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried blueberries and chopped dried cherries (anything but mixed peel)
  • 12 oz (350 g) soft dark brown sugar
  • Grated zest and juice 2 oranges
  • Grated zest and juice 2 lemons
  • 2 oz (50 g) whole almonds, cut into slivers
  • 4 level teaspoons mixed ground spice
  • ½ level teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons brandy, calvados, southern comfort or any other aromatic spirit that takes your fancy

You will also need 6 x 1lb (350ml) jam jars and 6 waxed discs

All you do is combine all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a large mixing bowl, stirring them and mixing them together very thoroughly indeed. Then cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave the mixture in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours, so the flavours have a chance to mingle and develop. After that, pre-heat the oven to gas mark ¼, 225°F (110°C). Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours, then remove the bowl from the oven. Don’t worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swimming in fat. This is how it should look. As it cools, stir it from time to time; the fat will coagulate and, instead of it being in tiny shreds, it will encase all the other ingredients. When the mincemeat is quite cold, stir well again, adding the brandy. Pack in jars that have been sterilised (see below). When filled, cover with waxed discs and seal. The mincemeat will keep for ages in a cool, dark cupboard – I have kept it for up to 2 years with no ill effects.

NOTE: To sterilise jars, wash the jars and lids in warm soapy water, rinse well, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea cloth, place them on a baking tray and put into a medium oven, gas mark 4, 350°F, 180°C, for 5 minutes.