Happy Easter 2012
Traditional Simnel Cake for Easter
See Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake for cake recipe and information on making a Simnel Cake.
Posted in British Traditional Style, Cakes-Pastries, Family-Personal Recipes, Holy Week/Easter, Make in advance, Tea Time-Coffee Time, tagged baking, cake, cooking, Easter, food on 8th April 2012| 1 Comment »
Posted in Eggs, Indian Style, Light Meal (Lunch-Supper), Quick Food, Simple recipe-Novice cook, Spicy, Starter, Vegetarian (Meat-Fish free), tagged cooking, food, recipe, starter, vegetarian on 18th February 2012| 1 Comment »
I was reminded of this recipe this morning when a friend at church brought in duck eggs for sale. We had a ready supply throughout last year but the ducks have been taking a break from laying and the resumed supply is something we have eagerly anticipated! I discovered this very simple recipe last year and although you can use hen’s eggs the larger and richer duck eggs (see picture) make it an extra special light supper. I have made egg curries in the past and we always enjoy them, but this is one of the simplest recipes I have come across.
Once more this recipe is based on one from one of my favourite books: Hot & Spicy Cooking: Exciting Ideas for Delicious Meals with recipes by Judith Ferguson, Lalita Ahmed and Carolyn Garner, with just a few very small tweaks. It’s simple sauce could be used as a base for any grilled meat or fish or diced meat or fish could also be incorporated. It reminds me a little of other recipes on this site, in particular Pork Sausages Indian Style, a Madhur Jaffrey recipe and Prawn & Tomato Korma, both of which are favourites. If using hen’s eggs then it is probably better to serve one and a half or even two per person for a light meal: with duck eggs one should be adequate. If you are serving this at a larger main meal then you will definitely need more eggs and the sauce will serve only two or three people. If serving as one option at an Indian style multi dish meal then the eggs should be quartered. This could also be served as a starter with half an egg per portion (in two quarters) and a small piece of naan or poppodums.
(Serves 4 as a light meal – 2-3 as a main meal – 6-8 as a starter)
4 duck eggs (1 per person – ½ for a starter)
4-8 hens eggs (depending on appetite of diners – 1 or less for a starter)
1tbsp sunflower oil
1 large or 2 small white onions (be generous)
2.5cm/1inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
6 green cardamom pods
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1.5cm/½inch piece of root ginger, finely chopped
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
¼tsp ground turmeric
1tsp garam masala
1tsp chilli powder
1 x 400g tin plum tomatoes, chopped
Salt & black pepper to taste
180ml/6fl ozs vegetable stock or water (or 1tsp stock powder and water)
Small handful fresh chopped coriander (parsley if unavailable)
1 small green chilli, a few fine slices (optional – I usually omit this)
1. Hard boil the eggs in boiling water: 10-12 minutes for duck eggs or 8-10 minutes for hens eggs. Once cooked plunge immediately into cold water, which will cool them and also help prevent the unsightly grey ring that can form around the yolk. I usually steam hard boil eggs, having pierced the shells first, which takes about 5 minutes longer.
2. Finely chop the onion and gently fry it in the oil for 2-3 minutes so it is soft but not browned.
3. Stir in the finely chopped garlic and ginger along with the cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamoms and cloves. Fry for 1 minute.
4. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and chilli powder. Stir well and fry for about 30 seconds more.
5. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes. Stir well, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the stock or water and bring to the boil. Season to taste.
6. Put the hard boiled eggs into the sauce and simmer for 10-12 minutes.
7. Serve sauce on a bed of plain boiled rice with egg or eggs placed on top. Garnish with coriander or parsley and, if you wish, a little finely sliced green chilli.
Mulligatawny is such a strange sounding word, but it simply means pepper water. Rather than being rooted in India, it is thought that Mulligatawny probably originated in Sri Lanka, although it could possibly have come from the Tamil speaking people of South India. ‘Mulligatawny’ or ‘Milagu Thanni’ is an amalgam of two Tamil words: ‘Millagu’ meaning pepper and ‘Thanni’ meaning water, although the soup we eat is probably closer to another Tamilian soup called Rasam. Originally a thin soup, under the rulers of the British colonial Raj Mulligatawny became rich and dense. A Mulligatawny soup recipe such as this one would have been familiar to those Britons who lived and worked during the Imperial Raj, the British rule of the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947. Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), a large island just to the south of mainland India, had close ties to Britain but was never part of the Raj. The British tried to recreate familiar dishes, as far as possible using the new and unusual ingredients they found but the hot climate, lack of refrigeration and unfamiliar cooking facilities would have made this very difficult. Originally Mulligatawny was served as a vegetarian ‘sauce’, but the British varied the recipe, including meat and other ingredients, often thickening it with rice and adding turmeric to give a yellow colour. Recipes for Mulligatawny appeared in many Victorian publications including one in the 1870 Nabob’s cook book which featured the addition of ‘fowl’. Although the soup was popular in India and Ceylon, it was not highly thought of back home in England but the resulting mixture of East and West has cast an influence on British cooking which can still be found today.
I have wanted to make Mulligatawny Soup for some time but when looking for a recipe, as you can imagine from the information above, there is a great deal of choice. I knew that I wanted to make a hearty and spicy soup which could be eaten in place of a main meal: the type that would be ideal when the weather is at its January chilliest. I found two complementary recipes and this version of Mulligatawny Soup is a combination of the best of both. The sources were Women’s Institute Soups for all Seasons by Liz Herbert and a wonderful recent find (from the secondhand bookstall at the church where my choir meets) The Ultimate Hot & Spicy Cookbook by various authors (published by Lorenz books), which I will certainly be revisiting again and again. I certainly wanted to add meat, chicken from choice (but this could be varied) and unable to choose between adding rice as in the Women’s Institute Soups for all Seasons and lentils as in The Ultimate Hot & Spicy Cookbook I decided to add both, something I will definitely do again. The second book also included sultanas, but as I do not like these in curries I have left them out. The dollop of Mango Chutney (home made, of course!) made it sweet enough for me.
1tbsp olive oil
4 chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite size chunks
2 chicken breast fillets, cut into bite size chunks
about 8ozs/200g leftover turkey or chicken from a roast
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium sized carrot, diced
1 medium sized potato, diced
1 small turnip, diced (optional)
1 tbsp mild madras curry powder (or another powder of your choice)
1 litre/1¾pints chicken stock
2 large tomatoes, chopped (did not skin & deseed as in original recipe)
2-4 cloves (according to personal preference)
6 black peppercorns, crushed lightly
4ozs/100g rice (preferably Basmati)
2ozs/50g red lentils
2ozs/50g sultanas (optional – I left these out)
handful chopped coriander (reserve some for garnish) – or parsley
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp per bowl natural yoghurt/crème fraîche/sour cream (more if you wish)
1tsp per bowl mango chutney
chopped fresh coriander (reserved)
grind of black pepper or light dusting of cayenne pepper/chilli powder
1. Melt the butter and oil together in a large saucepan. Turn up the heat and fry the diced raw chicken quickly turning frequently until it has browned. (Cooked leftover chicken should be added about 10minutes before the serving which should be just long enough for it to be thoroughly heated through.) This should take about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Stir the curry powder into the remaining oil and cook briefly. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, potato and turnip (if using) to the oil remaining in the pan. Stir well and turn down the heat. Cover and cook very gently for about 10 minutes.
3. Add the stock and stir well. Add the cloves, crushed peppercorns and chopped tomatoes. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer gently for 2o minutes.
4. Return the cooked chicken to the pan along with most of the chopped coriander, including the stalky pieces (use just chopped leaves for the garnish). Add the rice and lentils and simmer gently until they are just cooked, adding a little extra water only if needed. (If leftover cooked chicken is being used in place of fresh meat, this should be added about 10 minutes before the end of cooking time.)
5. Remove the cloves before serving if you can find them. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in warmed soup bowls topped with a dollop of natural yoghurt, crème fraîche or sour cream, a spoonful of mango chutney and a scattering of chopped fresh coriander leaves (or parsley). This can be served with Naan bread if you wish.
Sometimes I look at a recipe like this and think that it is almost too simple to earn its place on this site. However although it was simple I was so pleased with the outcome I just had to add it here. One of my original motivations for writing here was to add some straightforward and favourite family recipes for my daughter to use (as well as for me to remember). This certainly fits the bill and anyway, it is about time I shared here my own particular method for crunchy roast potatoes – with or without the sesame seeds.
This method of cooking potatoes is a combination of the method taught by my mother and ideas gleaned from other sources: books and television in particular. My grandmother roasted potatoes in margerine as my grandad was vegetarian and this gave her potatoes a distinctive taste: actually not unpleasant but something I would not want to copy. Mum originally used lard but often with dripping from the roasting meat and the potatoes took on some of the flavour of the dinner. In recent years she has substituted healthier sunflower oil for the lard. There is family discussion too on how to cut the potatoes: my mother in law favours large flat pieces that keep their shape whereas I grew up with smaller chunkier pieces which tended to crumble easily but had wonderful crisp crusty edges. The potatoes pictured below are slightly crusty but not as super-crumbly as I like them. There are many different varieties of potato and each will cook slightly differently, but all will become brown if cooked in hot fat and a hot oven even if they do not crumble very much. This method is the way I make sure that my roast potatoes have those crispy edges, as well as the ‘cooks perks’ bits that crumble off and are left in the roasting tin. My own choice of cooking fat is usually olive oil, because of the flavour it gives, though I often use a little sunflower oil and occasionally meat roasting juices. Recently Goose fat (or Duck fat) has been gaining in popularity. I bought a jar at Christmas which I combined with olive oil. Although not especially healthy Goose or Duck fat does give a lovely flavour and a crisp golden finish. It is quite expensive to use exclusively and most I have seen seems to be imported from France: perhaps another item to put on my ever increasing list of potential holiday food purchases?! Be warned. Good roast potatoes are addictive and potato is relatively cheap so don’t stint on quantities. If you have a one or two left the garden birds will love you for it!
Sesame Roast Potatoes
Allow 2 medium sized or 1 large potato per adult, depending on appetite
Olive oil/Sunflower oil/Goose fat/Duck fat/fat & juices from roasting meat – or a combination
Sea salt to sprinkle
Sesame seeds to sprinkle (optional – be generous if using) at least 1tbsp per person
1. Preheat the oven if not already in use. If roasting potatoes alongside a joint I turn the oven up to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6 first, putting them into the oven at the same time as I remove the lid from the roasting tin to finish the roasting meat. Once the meat comes out of the oven to rest before carving I turn up the heat to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6 220oC/425oF/Gas 7 but if possible heat the oven to this higher temperature from the start.
2. Peel and cut the potatoes into pieces. A medium sized potato can cut into four larger or eight smaller pieces – your choice.
3. Plunge into boiling slightly salted water, put on the lid and cook on a gentle rolling boil until you can slip the point of a knife easily into a potato piece. This will be about 8-12 minutes depending on the type of potato: some break up very quickly so watch carefully especially if you are cooking a new variety.
4. While the potatoes are cooking put the oil and/or fat into a large roasting tin and place in the oven. The potatoes do not need to swim in fat but you need enough for them not to stick. Remember that they will soak up fat as they cook, but you can add more if needed.
5. Drain the potatoes in a colander and gentle toss them around so the edges of the potato are slightly fluffed up. How much you do this will depend on how fluffy the potato edges are already.
6. Tip the potatoes into the roasting tin and turn them in the hot fat. Sprinkle with a little salt and return to the oven.
7. Turn the potatoes at regular intervals, adding a little more oil only if absolutely necessary, until they are golden and crispy. It is difficult to give exact timings for this but for really crisp potatoes you need to allow at least 45minutes and maybe a little longer.
8. Shortly before the potatoes are cooked remove the tin from the oven and generously sprinkle them with sesame seeds. The should be returned to the oven for at least five minutes more to allow the seeds to toast.
9. When serving drain any excess oil away from the potatoes before serving with any dinner of your choice, although this is particularly good with roasted meat. We enjoy a sprinkling of crunchy bits and toasted seeds that have ended up in the bottom of the pan as well!
The worst bit of this recipe is probably the pink fingers you will get from peeling the raw beetroot. The final result is one of the most colourful pies you will come across. I say pie, but this recipe works equally well as a stew or casserole, omitting the pastry layer. It is relatively quick to make but impressive enough to serve to guests: just check first that they are beetroot lovers as not everyone is. They might, of course, be prepared to have their minds changed, especially if their only previous experience of beetroot has been in jars pickled in vinegar, which is definitely love it or hate it. I am trying to do my bit to try to redress the beetroot’s poor reputation, so on this site you will find a number of recipes which involve neither pickling or vinegar, the only exceptions to date being Raw Beetroot Salad and my most commented upon post, Beetroot Chutney. However, for a vinegar free beetroot experience, why not try Rosy Potato Salad, Rosy Roast Root Vegetables, Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot … or even Beetroot Seed Cake!
The basic recipe comes from Complete Mince Cookbook by Bridget Jones. It is little changed from the original apart from the addition of a few herbs and the suggestion that a small amount of red wine vinegar, for a similar flavour, could be added in place of red wine if it is not available. (I often reduce the wine a little for everyday meals anyway, hence the two quantities.) Please don’t think that this is will in any way add a pickled taste but it does enhance the flavour of the dish beautifully. Use either minced pork, as in the original, or substitute chopped pork. Top with shortcrust pastry as in the recipe or use puff pastry instead. As I said earlier it can be made without a crust, just stir the soured cream into the stew just before serving instead of spooning it into the hole. If soured cream is not available then sour some cream with a little lemon juice (a tip I read somewhere else a year or so ago) or substitute either yoghurt or crème fraîche.
Pork & Beetroot Pie
12ozs shortcrust pastry (see Basic Recipe: Pastry) or 1 packet of puff pastry
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled & chopped
450g/1lb uncooked beetroot, peeled & diced
450g/1lb minced or chopped pork
1tbsp mixed herbs
1tbsp chicken stock concentrate, powder or 1 cube
300ml/¼-½pint red wine
1-2tbsp red wine vinegar and a little water as required
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
¼pint soured cream to serve
To serve: chopped parsley (optional for casserole)
1. Preheat oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for casserole or 200oC/400oF/Gas 6 for pie.
2. Melt the butter and olive oil together in a pan and cook the onion and the beetroot together until the onion is soft but not brown.
3. Stir in the pork and fry briefly stirring to break up the meat if it is minced. Add the stock and stir in. Season to taste.
4. Mix in the wine (or wine vinegar and a little water – more can be added later if needed). Bring to the boil and remove from the heat.
5. If this is being served as a casserole then transfer the contents to a casserole dish and place in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes. Alternatively cover the saucepan and leave it on a low heat to continue to cook for at least 30 minutes. Check seasoning, stir in a swirl of soured cream (but do not completely combine) and scatter with chopped parsley before serving.
6. The pie version has a lid but no pastry underneath. Roll out the pastry until it is just a little larger than the circumference of the pie dish. Fill the dish with the pork and beetroot mixture. From the leftover pastry cut a strip and place it round the edge of the pie dish. Lift over the lid and using a small round cutter (about 2.5cm/1inch in diameter) cut a hole in the middle of the pie. Pinch the edges of the pastry together with the edge strip in a fluted design, using fingers or a fork, and trim any overlapping pastry to size.
7. From the remaining pastry cut a circle of pastry about 3.5cm/1½inches in diameter and use it to loosely cover the hole in the pie. If needed any remaining pastry can be used for decoration. The pastry can be brushed with beaten egg to give a golden finish or a little milk before baking.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes.
9. Just before serving carefully remove the circle of pastry from the middle of the pie. Using a funnel pour in the soured cream and then replace the circle and serve the pie immediately.
10. Serve with creamed or small new potatoes and a simply cooked green vegetable.
When the colder weather arrives my thoughts turn to soup, home made of course. Soup is fantastic for this time of year and can be very forgiving if you have slightly less than fresh veggies that need finishing – not that I am advocating using items that have started to rot! I had been planning to make Leek and Potato soup for ages and now I had no excuse, with leeks left over from Turkey Flan with Leeks & Cheese, potatoes in the cupboard and turkey stock in the freezer. So far this year as the weather has been fairly mild and life has been busy soup has not made much of an appearance on the menu, but this last Saturday I finally rectified that. This soup is not just for winter though. It can also be served chilled during the summer months, often served poured over two or three ice cubes and garnished with leek strands as below or a sprinkling of chives, see this BBC recipe. I had thought that Vichyssoise was the name of the cold version with the hot soup called the much less exciting Leek & Potato. I discovered however that both hot and cold versions can be called Vichyssoise and further it is quite possible that it is not, as I had previously learned (or perhaps assumed having visited Vichy in France) a uniquely French soup. According to Wikipedia:
‘…food writer Julia Child calls Vichyssoise “an American invention” whereas others observe that “the origin of the soup is questionable in whether it’s genuinely French or an American creation”‘.
There are a lot of good Leek & Potato Soup/Vichyssoise recipes around. This version came from Potatoes: more than Mashed by Sally Mansfield, one of my most recent charity shop finds. It has other lovely ideas I am sure its recipes will appear again. The original quantity, however, was a less than generous lunch for the four people specified so the quantities below have been increased by about a quarter so as a first course it could probably serve up to six. There are also a few little personal tweaks: cooking in olive oil as well as butter, increasing the onion, adding fine strips of leek and crème fraîche to garnish. The original recipe was for chicken stock but turkey or vegetable stock can be substituted. For a richer soup replace some of the water with milk or even single cream (in which case a little could be reserved to swirl on top). Yoghurt, or as I used this time, crème fraîche could also add the finishing touch. All that is needed is some lovely crusty bread to serve alongside. In the picture is a small piece of a large Pide flatbread bought from the wonderful bakery in our local Turkish supermarket.
Leek & Potato Soup
(Serves 3-4 or 6-8 as a starter)
1tbsp olive oil
3 leeks, chopped (reserve a few fine slices to garnish)
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
454g/1lb potatoes, floury type if available, chopped
1150ml/2pints chicken, turkey or vegetable stock (or use mix of stock & either milk or cream)
Salt & ground black pepper
Cream, yoghurt or crème fraîche
Fine strands of leek
Grind of black pepper
1. Heat half of the butter and the olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion and chopped leeks until transparent and soft, about 7 minutes. Stir them occasionally and make sure that they do not brown.
2. Add the potato pieces and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the stock, bring to the boil and reduce the heat. Cover and simmer gently for 30-35 minutes. The vegetables should be very tender. Taste and season as required.
4. The soup can be left either very chunky or liquidised until smooth. I part liquidise the soup so there are a few chunks left. Take care over liquidising potato as the starch can make it very sticky. Add plenty of liquid with the vegetables and liquidise in short bursts until smooth. Return to the pan, combining with any remaining chunks if making a mixed texture soup.
5. Reheat the soup, stirring in the remaining butter in small pieces. Check seasoning.
6. Serve with a swirl of cream, yoghurt or crème fraîche, a few strands of leek and a grind of black pepper in each bowl, along with a piece of crusty bread.
Whatever else is on offer, a Trifle is an essential dessert for New Year’s Day (at least that is my personal opinion though I am more than happy to serve it at other times of the year.) At New Year meals in past years I have offered Sherry Jelly Berry Trifle, Black Forest Trifle and Chocolate Orange Trifle (yet to appear on this site). This year it was the turn of a Mulled Plum Trifle. (Should probably rename it Mulled ‘Yum’ Trifle actually!)
This recipe is my own, an experiment which I knew would be fine – after all what could be wrong with a combination of plums and custard/cream with the obligatory slug of alcohol! I am sure that any plums would be fine, but I used the type of hard round plums that are readily available throughout most of the year in the UK with colours ranging from cerise red to a deep ‘plummy’ maroon with golden or reddish flesh. We find that these are not particularly good to eat uncooked but I often serve them for dessert as Mulled Plums, stewing them in a similar method to that below. See also my previous post on Mulled Stewed Fruit. This year I served Mulled Plum Trifle to my very forgiving extended family, with Candlemas Crumble as a hot alternative. Most people ate both and I sent my guests home with a portion each of Mulled Plum Trifle for tea the next day. I find the combination of almond and goes well with plums so I soaked the trifle sponges in the bottom of the dish with a sherry glass of Carina brand Cremandorla: Crema aux Amandes, a Sicilian almond flavoured aperitif made with Marsala wine, which we buy when on holiday in France. It can be found in many French supermarkets: Leclerc, Super-U, Carrefour, Intermarche… My sister in law uses an Italian almond flavoured (amaretto) liqueur called Disarono which is similar and available, I think, in the UK. Most trifles have sherry or marsala and this can, of course, be substituted. This is a jelly free trifle and actually I think it does not need either jelly or gelatine. However, if you wish, a complementary flavoured jelly can be used – for example raspberry or blackcurrant – or alternatively gelatine can be used to set the liquid without adding another flavour. In both cases the cooked plums should be strained and the cooking liquid made up with enough extra water to make a strong jelly mixture. It is helpful if you remember how many pieces of whole spice you have used as they will be removed when the plums are added to the trifle – either that or give a prize to the person who finds a piece in their mouthful!)
Mulled Plum Trifle
10 or 12 Trifle sponge fingers/Boudoir biscuits to cover base of dish
2-3 tbsp Almond Liqueur or dry sherry (optional) – see note above
2-2½lbs/1-1.25kg plums, halved and pitted (more if you wish)
Zest & juice of ½ lemon
2-3 thick slices fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 star anise
1 bay leaf
3-4 tbsp demerara sugar
¼pint/5fl ozs/150ml water
1 pint of custard made with custard powder and milk – sugared to taste
284ml/10fl oz carton Elmlea double or whipping cream
Small handful of blanched split almonds
Sugar dragees or stars (optional)
1. Quarter the plums, remove the stones and place in a shallow pan (I use my large frying pan) along with the lemon zest and juice, ginger slices, cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise and bay leaf. Sprinkle over the sugar, add the water and bring to the boil. Put on the lid and turn the heat down low. Stew very gently for about 10 minutes until the plums are soft and the liquid is syrupy. Remove the lid and boil briefly if the liquid needs to be reduced. A little extra water can be added but only if absolutely necessary as although it will soak into the sponge too much liquid will make the trifle watery (remember that this trifle is not set with jelly or gelatine). Remove pan from the heat and leave to cool. This step can be done in advance the the plums refrigerated.
2. Make up a pint of custard, varying the amount of sugar used according to the sweetness of the base layer. Leave to cool.
3. Toast the almonds either under a hot grill, in a dry frying pan or for about 5 minutes in the oven if it is on. Leave to cool.
4. Line the base of a transparent glass dish with trifle sponge fingers/Boudoir biscuits and soak with the almond liqueur or sherry.
5. Spoon the plums and their juice into the bowl, distributing evenly and removing the spices and bay leaf as you come across them.
6. Spoon the cooled custard carefully over the plums, distributing evenly and smoothing carefully. Try to avoid the dark plum juice ‘bleeding’ through the surface of the custard.
7. To serve: Whip the cream and spread evenly on top of the custard. Just before serving sprinkle over the cooled almonds (this way they will retain their crunch) and any other decoration such as dragees or stars.
Dundee Style Christmas Cake 2011
Some years ago, instead of our usual marzipan and iced cake, I experimented by making a Dundee Style one with the traditional topping of cherries and nuts. This year, having already made two marzipanned cakes with one iced as well (the Easter Simnel Cake and our Silver Wedding Anniversary Cake) I decided to make another Dundee Cake. The basic cake was made using the Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake recipe which I use for all family celebration cakes. Before it was baked I selected enough nuts and fruits to put in concentric rings on top, which are added before the cake was baked. Last time I used just blanched almonds and glace cherries but this time I topped it with circles of walnuts, pecan nuts and blanched almonds interspersed with red and green glace cherries. When we were in Spain on holiday this year I discovered green cherries in little bottles and was very pleased as I have been searching for them for some years. They are not quite the same as the red cherries we have in the UK, as the syrup is much lighter, but the flavour was the same. The ribbon came from Primark and was a bargain at £1 a roll – a perfect match for the colours I had already used for the cake topping.
More and more churches are serving their Christmas congregations mulled wine or a non-alcoholic alternative these years after the annual Christmas Carol Service and what could be more welcome on a cold evening. I have yet to add a recipe for Mulled Wine or an alcohol free alternative here but Amanda, The Vicar’s Wife, makes a non-alcoholic version of Mulled Wine called Spiced Cranapple, a mixture of Cranberry and Apple Juices. Mulled Cider is a popular alternative to Mulled Wine and last year I came across several recipes for Mulling Apple Juice. This simple recipe for Spiced Apple Punch, was an immediate hit with my family.
This particular recipe is a variation of the one on the Tesco website, but I have adjusted the ingredients for our taste. The ingredient quantities listed below are mine, but the original amounts are listed with the original recipe for Spiced Apple Punch. It is important that whole rather than ground spices are used as the latter would make the juice cloudy, even if it is well strained. I added some strips of root ginger, halved the quantity of lemon and put in slightly less Star Anise. Often Cassia Bark is sold in our local ethnic food shops in bags labelled Cinnamon. Although not the same Cassia is usually less expensive and as it gives a similar flavour and is removed before serving seems a good alternative, however use true Cinnamon if available. One recipe I found includes honey as a sweetener, but we felt that this recipe is sweet enough already. The original recipe suggests that for an alcoholic version, replacing half the apple juice with dry cider and adding 2 tbsp apple brandy. Alternatively I suggest that I tablespoonful (more if you wish) of brandy be added to each glass before pouring over the hot spiced punch. If you are making a quantity to serve at an event a slow cooker is useful for keeping mulled drinks of any type piping hot.
Spiced Mulled Apple Punch
(Serves 4-6, depending on portion size)
My Dad is a Crunchie fan – he just loves honeycomb – actually you could probably call him a ‘Crunchie nut’ so this is ideal for him! When I came across this just before last Christmas I just knew I had to make a batch so I could give him some for Christmas (saving some for our family, of course!) I also made White Christmas Slices and was able to give him and mum mixed box of goodies. I like the idea of giving handmade presents, sadly its something I rarely have time to do. This year my mind has been on other things with little time to make those festive extra treats we love: pickles, chutneys, Stollen, Lebkuchen…
I first saw this on the television series accompanying the new (in Christmas 2010) book, Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson. Such a simple idea and I was able to take down the recipe from the TV. A shortcut possibility, or for anyone outside the UK who cannot get Crunchie Bars (though they seem to be widely available), would be to use honeycomb, also known as cinder toffee. I understand this is fairly simple to make and there are various methods online. Here is just one version: Lets make a crunchie bar (giving first a recipe for honeycomb and then turning it into home made ‘crunchie’ bites) from fellow London based blogger London Eats. If you use honeycomb rather than Crunchies, then you would need to add more chocolate to account for the missing chocolate covering on the bars. I found that the finished article was much easier to cut straight from the fridge: once it had started to warm up the portions were not quite so neat and started to crumble. My one concern was that the finished article could have looked a little prettier. I used bars of Sainsbury’s Basics range chocolate, which I understand comes from a very reputable source yet is very resonably priced and was careful not to overheat it. I am not very experienced with chocolate and I would have liked a smoother finish, however I don’t think this was the fault of the chocolate. The taste was great. As an alternative to using lined shallow square or rectangular tins Nigella suggests using disposable foil tins. I always make sure I rescue these when they come with commercially bought meals, usually desserts or cakes, rather than immediately recycling them. By the way, don’t worry about using salted peanuts, just shake off any excess salt before use.
Sweet & Salty Crunchie Nut Bars
200g milk chocolate (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
100g dark/plain chocolate (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
100g unsalted butter (I used slightly less than the 125g in the original recipe)
1 x 15ml tbsp golden syrup
250g salted peanuts (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
2 x 80g Crunchie bars
1. Line a tin about 26cm square or a rectangular tin of similar dimensions with tin foil, smoothing out as much as possible. Alternatively use disposable foil tins (see note above).
2. Tip the peanuts into a large hole sieve or colander and shake over the sink to remove excess salt. Tip them into a medium sized mixing bowl. Crumble and add the Crunchie bars. Stir to combine.
3. Gently melt the butter and golden syrup together in a heavy based pan. As it melts break up and add the chocolate bars. Stir until dissolved, but do not allow to boil.
4. When the mixture in the pan has just melted pour it over the nuts and broken Crunchies and stir together.
5. Pour into the lined tin or foil tray. Spread out to the corners and try to flatten it as possible. A spatula will help with this.
6. Cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours. Remove and slice, working quickly before the mixture starts to warm up, which I found made it more difficult to cut accurately. I could be cut it into chunks, wedges or even random shapes.
7. Store in the fridge until you are ready to give away. Placed in small decorative boxes and wrapped with cellophane this makes good Christmas gift. It could also be served as a ‘naughty nibble’ with a cup of coffee!