Mince pies

Mince pies are not part of my native culture, and I didn’t like them for a long time after moving to London, but since I started making these (to keep my husband happy) I have grown to like them. I think this recipe is a really good mince pie recipe. Making the mince requires you to be somewhat organized, as you want to leave it for a few weeks, before using it for the actual pies.

Mince
225g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped/grated
110g sultanas
60g currants
60g dried cranberries
175g raisins
110g mixed candied peel
4 tbsp dark rum, whiskey or brandy
25g finely chopped blanched almonds
1 large orange, finely grated zest and juice
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
110g shredded suet
175g dark muscovado sugar

Rum butter
125g butter, room temperature
50g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp dark rum, whisky or brandy

Pastry
450g plain flour
180g butter, chilled and diced
50g lard, chilled and diced
finely grated zest of  1 orange
5-6 tbsp orange juice

Mince
1. Combine all mince ingredients apart from the muscovado and suet. Cook in a saucepan over low heat for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has plumped up, the apples have broken down and excess liquid has evaporated.

2. Set aside to cool, then mix in the muscovado and suet. For adults version, I also tend to add some more alcohol at this stage (3 tbsp), as the cooking has burned all alcohol off.

3. Put in sterilized jars, and mature for 3-4 weeks.

Rum butter
Whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in the rum, and set aside in the fridge.

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Pastry
1. Put the flour, butter and lard, as well as a pinch of salt, into a food processor. Whizz briefly until it looks like breadcrumbs.

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2. Add the orange zest and juice, and whizz again.

3. Turn onto floured surface, and knead briefly, until smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.

The pies
1. Preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F.

2. Grease the baking tins with butter. Roll the dough to about 5mm thickness. I tend to cut out circles with two glasses. The bigger one for the ‘body’ of the pies, and the smaller for the lids of the pies. Place the bigger circles in the greased baking tins, forming the bottom and sides of the pie. fill with the mince mixture, and put a teaspoon of the rum butter on top. Then place the lid over, pressing the edges together with the edges of the other dough.

3. Make few punctures with a sharp knife, and brush with beaten egg, then bake for 20 minutes.

Beetroot and dill cured salmon

Cured salmon is one of the foods often enjoyed as part of the Scandinavian kitchen. There are many variations to it, however the basics you will need are sugar and salt. The whole process is based on the reaction called osmosis, and is an ancient way of preserving foods that wouldn’t last fresh for long otherwise. During the curing, you will notice a lot of liquid will be drawn out of the fish. The cured fish will last in the fridge for few weeks, however I doubt you will have anything left for that long.

2 raw beetroot, grated
500g piece of fresh salmon
50g table salt
90g caster sugar
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
a bunch of fresh dill

1. Dry roast the mustard seeds, until fragrant and popping. Cool, and crush together with the peppercorns with pestle and mortar. Mix together with salt, sugar and finely chopped dill.

2. Place a large piece of cling film to cover the dish you’re using for your curing. Place half of the raw, grated beetroot at the bottom. Then add half of the mixture of the other ingredients.

3. Add the piece of salmon on top of the beetroot and sugar / salt mixture. Leave the skin on the fish.

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4. Add the salt / sugar mixture and the beetroot on top of the fish too.

5. Tightly pack the fish and curing mixture. I used three different layers of cling film, however some of the liquid will still seep through. Place something to act as weights on top of the fish, and put in to fridge.

5. About every 12 hours (or every morning and evening), turn the fish upside down. I also change the direction my weights are, to try to ensure they are covering as much as possible during the process.

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6. After two days, your fish is ready. Drain all liquid, and wipe the fish piece clean.

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Luxury mac and cheese

As I’ve recently been on a lighter diet, I found this ultimate comfort food very rich and filling. It’s not for faint hearted or those even contemplating on a low calorie meal. This would have to be for your cheat day, I didn’t even bother counting the calories (= ignorance is bliss sometimes). This recipe makes a big batch, for those who have read my posts before know that for certain type of food I like making a big amount at one go. This recipe will probably serve about 10 people. This is a more luxurious version of a standard, simple mac and cheese. During baking the smell is indicating it might be very cheesy, however, surprisingly it actually isn’t.

500g uncooked macaroni
200g bacon lardons
2 medium onions, finely chopped
100g butter (+ a small piece to butter the oven dish)
100g plain flour
1tsp Dijon Mustard
1.2 litres full fat milk
100ml double cream
2 bay leaves
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tbsp ground black pepper
400g extra mature cheddar cheese
75g light breadcrumbs
80g grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the macaroni to be al dente (still with a little bite to it), and drain well.

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2. Melt the butter in a large pan, on a low heat. Add the flour, and mix together. Cook, stirring, for about a minute, then add the mustard. Remove from the heat, and little by little, add milk, whisking the mixture together. Add the cream and bay leaves.

3. Heat the mixture, stirring regularly. I use this period for grating the cheese, however you have to remember to keep an eye on the mixture, and stir or whisk it occasionally. Once the mixture thickens, remove from heat, and remove the bay leaves.

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4. Add the cheddar cheese, and mix until melted. Then add the nutmeg and black pepper, and mix. Also add the cooked macaroni and mix together.

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5. Fry the finely chopped onions and bacon in a frying pan, and mix into the macaroni and cheese.

6. Heat the oven to 180°C / 355°F (fan). Smear your oven dish with a little butter, and put the mac and cheese mixture into the dish.

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7. Mix the breadcrumb and Parmesan cheese together, and coat the mac and cheese with the mixture. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Pumpkin soup

I’m currently experimenting with soups, trying to make one pretty much every week, whilst keeping it interesting at the same time. It’s probably no surprise that being a Halloween week, I’ve made pumpkin soup today. I don’t normally use pumpkin in cooking much at all, so it’s actually nice that I have as the soup is lovely!  The consistency of my soup is quite like that of  velouté, velvety and smooth. If you would like yours thicker, I would just reduce the amount of the liquids in my recipe.

2 onions, finely chopped
splash of olive oil
1 pumpkin (mine was 1,8kg)
1 litre of vegetable stock (I mix Bouillon powder with water)
2dl double cream
salt
pepper
pumpkin seeds
pea shoots

1. Peel, deseed and chop the pumpkin.

2. Heat the oil, then cook onions for 5 minutes until soft. Add the pumpkin and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the stock, and after bringing it to boil simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cream, and season with salt and pepper.

4. After cooling the soup down a little bit, puree it in a blender.

5. Re-heat if needed, drizzle some olive oil on top and serve with some pumpkin seeds and pea shoots.

Squid and chorizo salad

This wonderful salad is full of flavour and content. The dried chickpeas need to soaked for 8 hours so this dish will need some pre cooking planning, but apart from that is quite a simple food to make, with not a lot of actual cooking involved.

2dl dried chickpeas
400g squid
1 chorizo sausage (about 60g)
8 plum tomatoes
1 fresh small green chilli
2 cloves of garlic
1 spring onion
2 leaves of romaine heart lettuce
25g fresh parsley
juice of one lemon (or 2tbsp)
6 tbsp olive oil
salt
pepper

1. Generously cover the chickpeas with cold water for 8 hours. After the soaking time, drain. Place in a pot, cover with fresh water and bring to boil. Simmer for 40 minutes.

2. Whilst the chickpeas are boiling, chop the ingredients for the salad base. Cut the tomatoes into quarters. Deseed and finely chop the chilli, and also finely chop the garlic cloves, spring onion and parsley. Cut the romaine heart lettuce into thin strips. Mix together, and add the lemon juice and half of the olive oil. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper. Place in the fridge. Once the chickpeas are cooked, drain and let cool.

3. Cut the body pouch of the squids open, and score the inside into diamond shapes. Then cut the squid into bite size pieces.

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4. Heat the remaining half of the oil in a frying pan, and put the squid pieces in the scored size up. Fry for about 30 seconds, then turn over and fry for another 30 seconds. You may need to do this is two-three batches. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper, and set aside.

5. Chop the chorizo into small pieces. Fry in the pan for couple of minutes, then add the squid and fry for another minute.

6. Add the cooled chickpeas to the salad base, and mix together. Plate the salad, and add the squid and chorizo on top.

Mixed bean cassoulet

I’m not entirely sure what the true, authentic way of making bean cassoulet is, but the good thing with any this type of food is that you can easily make it your own. You can go from vegetarian version to a hearty, meaty one, or anything in between. This is what I went for this time, using my homemade chicken stock (click here for recipe), and I’m already looking forward to the next time, to make one perhaps with sausage. I would categorise this dish as hearty winter meal. I’ve never been a big bean lover, but this dish is a great introduction to tasty ways of cooking them, and my husband loves this dish. One thing that requires some organisation with this is soaking the dried beans beforehand, but otherwise the steps to making this food are pretty simple. I use a 10 bean mix of black eyed beans, black turtle beans, butter beans, haricot beans, lima beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, rose cocoa beans, alubia beans and mung beans.

500g dried mixed beans
2 medium sized carrots, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can of chopped tomatoes
4 dl chicken stock
dash of vegetable oil

1. Place the beans in a bowl, cover with cold water and soak for 12 hours. After the soaking time, drain. Place in a pot, cover with fresh water. Bring to boil, and on high setting boil for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to simmer, and boil for 1 hour 20 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 360°F.

3. Place the oil, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme in a casserole dish. Fry on the hob for about 5 minutes, stirring, until onions start getting softer.

4. Place all the remaining ingredients in and mix everything together thoroughly. Cover with a lid, and place in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes.

 

Winter warmer beef and root vegetable soup

I was planning on making this soup for few weeks. Since I started planning it I’ve gone on a diet, and after I made it, I decided to count the calorie content of the soup. My recipe makes a really big amount, which only contains 2000 kcal. I was very pleased to find out that a portion size only contains a couple of hundred calories. The purpose of this soup was not a low calorie meal options, but it for sure is an added bonus. You will still get soft meaty pieces of beef, and the fresh vegetables bring such great flavour. It’s perfect winter warmer food.

600g diced beef
500g swede (about 1/2 of a large swede)
350g turnips
400g parsnips
250g carrots
600g potatoes
1 onion
125g cauliflower
125g broccoli
2 cloves of garlic
2 dl frozen peas
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
handful of fresh thyme sprigs
4 litres of water

1. Place the beef pieces and half of the water to a large pot. Cover with a lid, bring to boil, and boil for couple of hours, until the pieces are starting to get soft. It doesn’t necessarily matter what cut of the beef you use. If you are using tough, cheaper cuts, boiling them this way before you add the other ingredients will make them wonderfully soft. At the beginning of the boiling, keep on eye on the pot, as the ‘muck’ coming out of the beef may foam a lot. You may want to skim some of the foam / muck away. After about an hour’ add the salt, peppercorns, allspice, finely chopped garlic, bay leaves and thyme.

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2. While the beef is boiling, prepare all the vegetables. Peel and cut the turnips, swede, parsnips and carrots into small pieces. Peel the potatoes, and cut them into bigger, still bite sized pieces. Finely chop the onion, and cut the broccoli and cauliflower into small florets.

 

3. After the beef has been boiling for couple of hours (or longer if required) and is soft, add the carrots, swede, parsnips, turnips and potatoes, and the remaining half of the water. Bring back to boil, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

4. Add the onion, cauliflower, broccoli and peas and simmer for another 10 minutes. Check the taste, and add seasoning, if required.

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