Archive for the ‘Contains Alcohol’ Category

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 SaladRosy Roast Root VegetablesMoroccan 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.

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Pork & Beetroot Pie
(Serves 4)

12ozs shortcrust pastry (see Basic Recipe: Pastry) or 1 packet of puff pastry
10g/½oz butter
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.


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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!)

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Mulled Plum Trifle
(Serves 6-8)

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
2-3 cloves
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
For decoration
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.

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I have had mixed experiences with making cakes containing fresh fruit.  The first time I made an apple cake it was definitely delicious but the texture and look felt more like a pudding than a cake.  It seemed rather claggy and was great with custard but I did not feel it was particularly presentable for a tea-time treat.  It deteriorated quickly in the cake tin as it was so moist and was just about edible on the second day but definitely past it after that.  I was a little unsure about wanting to repeat the experience, but we have been snowed under with gifts of apples this year.  By all accounts it has been a bumper harvest.  I decided to take a risk using a different recipe and this time the results and especially the texture were very much better.  Actually, this recipe was so popular that I did not have to worry about it lasting as long as day three, however if it had I am sure it would have been edible.

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You will not be surprised to know that this is yet another recipe from my original paperback copy of Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes, which is well thumbed and in places loose leaf.  (I was looking for the recipe for Caraway Seed Cake, one of my favourites, which will follow another time … but I digress …!)  This page popped open and it sounded lovely – and conveniently there was a small lonely bottle of French cider sitting in the cupboard.  My only argument with the recipe is the instruction for placing slices of apple on the top.  I spent quite some time making an attractive decorative pattern in concentric rings only to find this was completely unnecessary as it was completely obliterated by the topping mixture.  Next time I will either scatter the slices evenly over the top before adding the topping or even try dicing the remaining apple (but into fairly small pieces), before mixing with most of the topping and evenly scattering it over.  It can then be finished off with the remainder of the topping mix and the split almonds certainly add a lovely nutty crunch, although they could be omitted.  As for the cider, we could really taste it in the cake.  I am sure that apple juice would make a good substitute but obviously would not be quite the same.  I served this as a warm dessert accompanied by vanilla ice cream with some cake left over to cut and eat cold later.  If it is going to be served as a pudding you could go the whole hog and serve it with Brandy Sauce, the type some people serve with Christmas pudding!

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Spiced Apple & Cider Cake

For the cake:
50zs/150g margerine or butter
5ozs/150g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
8ozs/225g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp grated nutmeg
¼pt/150ml dry cider
3 smallish cooking apples (I used 1lb 40zs/600g)
For the topping:
1oz/25g butter
1oz/25g plain flour
2ozs/50g dark soft brown sugar
2tsp cinnamon
1oz/25g blanched & chopped or split almonds

1.  Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4.  Line and grease a 8inch/20cm loose bottomed cake tin.

First make the cake:
2.  Cream the butter and sugar together until light, pale and fluffy.

3.  Beat the eggs and add a little at a time, beating well each time a some egg is added.

4.  Sieve the flour, nutmeg and baking powder together.

5.  Fold half of this flour mix into the mixture using a metal spoon.  Add half of the cider.

6.  Fold in the remaining flour mix.  Add the remaining cider.

7.  Peel, core and chop one apple and fold into the cake mixture.

8.  Spoon the cake mixture evenly into the prepared tin, smoothing with the back of a spoon.

Prepare the topping:
9.  Measure the flour, butter, sugar and cinnamon into a bowl and rub together with fingertips until it has a coarse and crumbly texture similar to breadcrumbs.  Add the chopped or split almonds.

10. The remaining apples should be peeled, cored and sliced thinly before arranging the slices, overlapping slightly, on the top of the cake.  This can be done fairly roughly – these will be completely underneath the layer of topping mixture so it is not worth spending a lot of time making a highly decorative pattern with the apple!

11. Scatter the topping mixture evenly on top.

12. Bake in the centre of the pre-heated oven for 1¼-1½hrs or until the cake starts to shrink away from the sides of the tin.

13.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.

14.  Remove carefully and transfer to a wire rack.

15.  Serve warm as a dessert with cream or ice cream. Alternatively cut when cool and serve at tea time.

16.  The liquid in the fruit will make this a moist cake and the moistness will make it start to go mouldy quickly so be aware that it needs to be eaten within a day or so.

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This is a very special recipe, one I turn to again and again for a rich fruit cake: for Christmas, Easter or even the occasional ‘special’ birthday.  (It would also make a good wedding cake, but that is outside my experience.)  Its full title in my recipe file is Special Occasion Cake (from Mrs Maud Farrant) written in my mother’s hand.  As with all good recipes it is a ‘hand-me-down’.  I am the third generation, at least, to use it.  It came from my father’s mother, my ‘nanna’ as we called her and through her daughter, my aunt, to my mother.  Each time I make this recipe I do so with a sense of pride and connection with the past, especially as my nanna and aunt are no longer with us.  It is especially lovely to have it each Christmas and also to turn it into an Simnel Cake at Easter.  I really hope that the tradition will continue with my own daughter: that in years to come I will be able to eat a slice of a cake from the same recipe in her home!

Here is this year’s Christmas cake, made a little later than I had hoped but looking just as tasty as usual. Each year it is decorated slightly differently. This year it will be a version of the traditional topping of marzipan and icing (the photo will appear on this page in due course). Last year I finished the cake with an unusual sweet and crunchy Florentine topping, from an idea in Tesco’s 2009 free instore magazine which I will definitely be repeating (recipe and picture further down). I have also often made it into a Dundee cake, covered with concentric rings of nuts and glacé cherries before it was baked. Our last Dundee Cake was before I started this blog so there are no photos, but it is about time we ate one again. Perhaps Christmas 2011 unless I develop another plan. (As mentioned before I also use this recipe for my Simnel Cake at Easter and more recently for our Silver Wedding Celebration Cake – pictures and details below or by following the link.)

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Although this cake doesn’t take long to mix, it is really important to have the timings in mind. For best results it needs to be started in advance, preferably the day before as the fruit needs to be soaked in alcohol and plump up. Actually, I have forgotten this several times and it is still delicious – just leave for as long as possible and go ahead. Remember too that the cooking time is around 2¼hours, give or take a bit, so if you put it in the oven late in the evening (again I admit to doing this) plan to stay up past midnight waiting for it to cook – you have been warned! Some people like to ‘feed’ a cake by piercing the bottom of the cooked cake with a skewer and pouring over a small amount of additional alcohol. There was no instruction to do this in the original recipe and I know my mother does not, however, as recommended by others, I feed my Christmas Cake just a little and like to think it is an improvement. I never feed a Simnel Cake and we enjoy it just as much. It all comes down to personal preference. (The measurements given are Imperial and I am loth to convert the original as I am afraid that adjusting the measurements may make the cake less successful.)

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Basic Recipe: Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake
*Mixed dried fruit can be either a combination of sultanas, raisins and currants or the ready mixed variety with mixed peel included, in which case add an extra 2ozs mixed fruit instead of adding the peel or add another 2ozs glacé cherries.

Start this recipe in advance and soak the mixed fruit in the brandy at least overnight.
2tbsp brandy (rum can be used as an alternative)
1½lb (or 1lb for a less rich and heavy cake) mixed dried fruit (*see note above)
2ozs peel (unless using mixed fruit with peel – *see note above)

8ozs butter, at room temperature
8ozs soft brown sugar
3 large or 4 small eggs
10ozs self raising flour
large pinch salt
1 level tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp cinnamon
2ozs glacé cherries (*see note above)
1oz blanched chopped almonds or flaked almonds
a little milk to mix, if required

1.  Place the mixed fruit in a bowl, pour over the brandy and cover.  Leave to soak overnight.

2.  Line a 8-9inch loose bottomed tin with non stick baking parchment.  I do this by cutting a ring for the base and a long strip that is 2 inches more that the width and height of the sides.  Fold up the spare 2 inches of liner along the long side and cut into it at about 1inch intervals up to the fold along the entire length.  Use this to line the inside of the tin, folding in the cut pieces to part line the bottom.  Place the circle of liner on top.  It should not need greasing, but you may just like to add a few dabs of oil to help it adhere to the tin.

3.  Preheat the oven to 150oC/140oC Fan/300oF/Gas 2.

4. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and very creamy.

5.  Break an egg into a jug and gently mix with a fork.  Add a little at a time to the butter and sugar mixture, beating well between each addition.  Continue in the same way until all the eggs are added.  Beat the mixture very well.

6.  Add the soaked fruit, cherries and almonds and mix in well.

7.  Sift the flour, ground spices and salt into the cake mixture and gently fold in, until the flour has disappeared.  Gently stir a little milk to the mixture if it seems a little stiff.

8.  Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing down well into the bottom and smooth out so the top is flattened.

9.  Make a collar out of three or four sheets of newspaper about twice the height of the tin and tie in place around the cake with string.  This prevents burning.  (I find the Waltham Forest Guardian makes an excellent ring, but doesn’t add anything particular to the taste – so feel free to use any newspaper!)

10.  Place in the centre of the preheated oven.  Check after 2hours by gently pressing the top to see if it is still spongy and/or inserting a skewer to see if it comes out cleanly.  I usually find that it needs a further 15 minutes in my oven but the original instructions specify 2½ hours (and in one place it says 2½ to 3hours – a non fan oven instruction).

11.  When cooked remove from the oven, take off the newspaper collar, ease out of the tin and remove the lining paper.  Place onto a wire rack to cool.

12.  When cold the cake can be stored in a tin until it is ready to be finished.  Place it on the lid of the tin and cover with the upside down tin base.  (Label the bottom ‘this way up’ so no one forgets!)  If you want to ‘feed’ the cake pierce the base, not the top, with a skewer and gently drizzle about a tablespoon of extra brandy into the holes.  This can be repeated at regular occasions.  If I make my cake in November I usually do it four or five times between baking and the time it is decorated.

The cake is now ready to be decorated.  See below for some of the cakes we have eaten … plus decorating information.

Finishing touches …

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Starry Night Cake – Christmas 2010
Traditional marzipan and white icing (fondant).  Design by hopeeternal
(more information about the cake and design)

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Florentine Topping for Christmas Cake (December 2009)
(Amount generously covers a 23cm/9inch cake)

Florentine Topping is an alternative to the usual Christmas marzipan and white icing. Mixed red & green cherries, if available, would be a pretty alternative.  If you can get whole candied fruit to chop this is preferable to bought ready chopped peel in a tub. This recipe comes from the Tesco In Store Free Magazine, November-December 2009.

25g/1oz butter
2tbsp golden syrup
50g/2ozs flaked almonds
50g/2ozs roughly chopped walnuts
200g/7ozs halved red cherries
50g/2ozs chopped mixed peel
1tbsp plain flour

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC/160oC Fan oven/Gas 4

2. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a pan.

3. Stir in the almonds and walnuts.

4. Stir in the cherries and mixed peel.

5. Stir in the flour and mix thoroughly.

6. Place the cake on a baking tray and spoon over the Florentine Topping aiming for as even a layer as possible.

7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes. Gently lift onto a rack to cool and decorate with ribbon to serve.

8. Can be stored in a cake tin for up to two weeks.

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Dundee Style Christmas Cake – December 2011
Walnut halves, pecan nut halves, blanched almonds, red and green glace cherries. Design by hopeeternal
More information about this cake

Dundee Cake (simplified topping using blanched almonds & cherries)
For a generous topping use 50-60 whole blanched almonds and 12-15 halved cherries.  Start with a ring of evenly spaced nuts around the edge of the uncooked cake mixture.  Within this place a ring of halved cherries.  Then a second ring of nuts and finally a small ring of cherries and a central cherry or nut if space permits.  Try to place the nuts and cherries without smearing the cake mixture on them for a clean looking finish.  The finish can be varied by adding other nuts, differently coloured cherries or changing the design from the usual formal concentric rings.


Traditional Simnel Cake for Easter
A Simnel cake can be made with brandy or rum, as in the basic recipe above, or alternatively pre-soak the fruit in the juice of half a fresh orange.  Simnel Cakes were originally made for their mothers by working children as a gift for Mothering Sunday, the third Sunday in Lent, which falls three weeks before Easter.  Nowadays Simnel Cakes are mostly eaten at Easter.  See Afternoon Tea for Mothering Sunday for more information.

A Simnel Cake traditionally has 11 marzipan balls around the edge – one for each Disciple or Apostle of Jesus, except for Judas Iscariot!  Counting is not my strong point (!)  I miscounted and managed to add 12 balls instead of the usual 11.  A pity because I was very pleased with the cake.  Here it is …

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First make the 11 small marzipan balls of around 2cm in diameter, before dividing the remaining marzipan in half.  Cut the cake horizontally through the centre into two equal pieces.  Roll one piece of marzipan into a circle.  Lightly spread the cut surface of the cake with apricot jam and place a rolled out circle of marzipan on top, putting any trimmings to one side.  Spread over a little more jam and cover with the second half of the cake. Roll a second circle from the remaining marzipan and place on the top of the cake. Trim to size and reserve the trimmings. The top can be marked in a lattice pattern, if required, using a light touch of a knife and the 11 marzipan balls are then placed equidistantly around the edge – a very little jam can be used to keep them in place.  Flash grill the top of the cake until the marzipan starts to bubble and slightly brown – take care as it burns quickly.  Any other decorations, such as sugar or foil covered chocolate eggs, fresh or sugar flowers or other items should be added when the surface is cold.

This version is decorated with a nest using the marzipan trimmings pushed through a clean garlic press to create strands.  When cool place a small pile of sugar covered chocolate eggs in the central nest.

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Silver Wedding Anniversary Celebration Cake

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Prunes: love them or hate them?  Perhaps it is the humourous asides that accompany their mention – perhaps it’s memories of school dinners – I don’t know, after all, they are simply dried plums and if you like plums I cannot understand why you would not like prunes as well.  So, let’s hear it for the much maligned but versatile prune!  How do I eat them?  Well stewed, of course, hot or cold, which is the simplest way but I also put them in fruit cakes and even, in spite of my dislike of meat and fruit together, in a Moroccan style dish we love of chicken.  Now I have a new way…

I came across this recipe recently whilst leafing through one of my favourite chutney and pickle books The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles & Chutneys by David & Rose Mabey and is extremely simple.  The instructions say it goes well with ham and I plan to make sure it goes on the table at Christmas & New Year.  I tried a quarter quantity using inexpensive supermarket Value brand prunes and was able to almost fill two attractive tall jam jars, just having to add a few extra prunes (say 50g) for good measure to top up the jars.

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Pickled Prunes
(Makes around 1½lb)

8-10ozs/250-300g no soak pitted (stoneless) prunes
2ozs/125g sugar (I used white)
1 small blade of mace – original used a pinch each of ground nutmeg & mace
12 black peppercorns
½pint/10fl ozs/300ml white malt vinegar
½tbsp brandy (optional)

(As I was using no soak prunes I omitted the step soaking them in water overnight until plump and juicy, before draining.)  However … 

1.  … if the prunes seem a little dry cover with boiling water.  Leave for 5-10 minutes to plump up before draining well. 

2.  Wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water  from the lids as possible before filling.

3.  Place the sugar,vinegar and spices in a small pan.  Boil for about 10 minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavours to permeate the vinegar.

4.  Pack the prunes into prepared jars, using extra prunes if necessary.

5.  Adding brandy is optional and if using it should be divided equally between the jars before adding the vinegar mixture.

6.  Place the peppercorns and mace blade in the jar (cut the blade into pieces if you have more than one jar) and finally pour the vinegar over the prunes.

7.  Put the lids on the jars and invert until cool, which helps with the seal.

8.  These prunes can be eaten immediately but are better kept a few weeks or even months.  They have a spicy slightly sharp flavour and are good eaten with cold ham.

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My family love mince pies and I start making batches from early December.  I like the fruity, spiced flavour of mincemeat, but am not too keen of the slightly greasy aftertaste that comes from the melted suet which is part of the traditional recipe, even if vegetarian rather than beef suet is used.  A friend from years ago gave us her method of ‘improving’ a standard jar of shop bought mincemeat where extra amounts of favourite ingredients were added, including plenty of alcohol – I simply didn’t add any extra suet.  (See my post Last Minute Mincemeat for the ‘cheat’ recipe, plus my favourite recipe for Mince Pies and more information on their history –  and more of the pies we ate last year!)

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Then someone told me about Suet Free Mincement and ever since I have looked for a good recipe.  I’m glad to report that I have struck gold at last thanks to A Spoonful of Sugar, who found it in Nigella Lawson’s book How To Be A Domestic Goddess in a recipe created by Hettie Potter (who I gather is Nigella Lawson’s right hand woman).  If you like lots of apple flavour (very alcoholic apple flavour actually as it contains both cider and brandy) then this could be for you. It was easy to make and I will certainly be doing so again – why buy from the shop!   The mixture made four 1lb jars, which I hope is enough for the time being, though I think it may not last too long.  Perhaps next time I should make a double quantity or two panfuls at the same time. If you want to make the original version it can be found in Nigella’s book or at A Spoonful of Sugar – Hettie Potter’s Suet Free Mincemeat.   I took a few shortcuts, which I don’t think changed the flavour a great deal, substituting dried mixed fruit which of course, includes candied peel and zesting my lemon rather than cutting up the peel.  I am sure there could be other variations: my other recipe includes orange which may be a good alternative to the lemon. Cranberries would also be a good addition as would ginger (this would be especially popular with my ginger-loving husband).  I wonder too whether the apples and apple cider could be replaced with pears and pear cider, which is now becoming more widely available.  It would be interesting to hear comments added to this page by anyone who has adapted this or a similar recipe.  If I make any variations I will, of course, add them here.  I understand that this mincemeat keeps well and has been known to be good after a year – probably due to the high alcohol content.  Sadly if your cooking is an alcohol free zone then this recipe is not for you.

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Hettie Potter’s suet-free mincemeat
(Makes about 4lb/2kg)

250g soft dark brown sugar
250ml medium dry cider
1kg cooking apples, peeled, halved and quartered
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
500g dried mixed fruit
75g glace cherries, roughly chopped
75g blanched almonds,
zest & juice of ½ lemon
6 tablespoons brandy (alternatively rum)

1.  Place the cider and the sugar in a large saucepan and heat gently.

2.  Add the roughly chopped apples to the saucepan and stir well.

3.  Add the remaining ingredients, apart from brandy (or rum).  Simmer for around 30 minutes until the mixture is soft and pulpy.

4.  Meanwhile wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water from the lids as possible before filling.

5.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 5-10minutes.  Stir in the brandy (or rum) and transfer to sterilised jars.  Once the jars are filled and the lids well screwed on, invert them to improve the heat seal.  Turn the jars the right way up once they are cool.

6.  This mincemeat can be used immediately after cooking if you wish, but improves with age and keeps well.

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Actually, I ought to start with a small confession…..  We ate Breton Chicken rather than Somerset Chicken, as I used a small bottle of cider from Brittany (it was what was in the cupboard and needed to be used).  I promise though that next time (and there will definitely be a next time) I will be authentic and put in the correct cider!  This chicken recipe is one of the best I have come across: with a delicious onion, apple and mushroom sauce including cider, cream and the piquancy of a very small amount of mustard.  One product that Somerset, a country in the West Country of England, is famed for is its cider.  Apart from being a popular and refreshing drink it can also be cooked into recipes in much the same way as wine or beer (think Coq au Vin or Steak & Ale Pie, for example) adding a delicious appley flavour.  I have previously posted a recipe for Sausage & Apple Cassoulet, with Pork Sausages cooked with a cider based sauce: Somerset chicken would I think also be good reinvented as Somerset pork.  This recipe also features a second product from Somerset.  Cheddar type cheeses are made widely across the world in places as far apart as Scotland, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand (and more besides) but Somerset is the home of real Cheddar cheese which originated in the town of the same name in the famous Cheddar Gorge.

The Hairy Bikers Somerset Chicken was one of the recipes that appealed to my whole family as soon as they saw it on the Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain television series.  I was very pleased to find the recipe at Good to Know.  It took me a while to get round to making it, partly because I hadn’t realised how easy it was, however having done it once and discovered its simplicity I shall make it more often.  It would be a good meal to serve visitors either for a simple midweek supper or for a more special meal.  My only comment is that this rich dish is unnecessarily enriched by the amount of butter and oil used especially as the recipe also includes cream and cheese.  I have reduced both of these, however the link to the original recipe is above for anyone who want to consult the original.  As usual, I also removed the skins from the chicken, because we prefer it and substituted reduced fat Elmlea single cream for the double cream, none of which I felt detracted from the finished dish.  As for the cider, I used half a small bottle of Breton cider and the other half is in the freezer for next time: I find that leftover alcoholic drinks store well in the freezer and are fine for use in cooking, though I’m sure they would be no good to drink.  (I’m sure that others would find fault with this but it works well for us and is a great way to have wine or cider to hand when there are small amounts left after a party.  You don’t always have to drink it up!)

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Somerset Chicken
(Serves 6)

6 large chicken thighs, boned or left whole, with or without skin
6 chicken breasts, with or without skin (as per original recipe – skin left on)
2-3tbsp olive oil
5g butter
2 onions, sliced
4tbsp plain flour
2tbsp grain mustard
2 dessert apples, peeled & chopped small
125g/4ozs button mushrooms, sliced
250ml/9fl ozs chicken stock
300ml/10fl ozs cider
250ml/9fl ozs single cream
1tbsp finely chopped fresh sage leaves – be generous
300g/10½ozs Cheddar cheese, grated
6 baked potatoes

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6. 

2.  Skin the chicken breasts or thighs, removing the bone and skin if you wish.  Season with salt and black pepper and set to one side.

3.  Place 2tbsp of oil and 10g of butter in a large frying pan and fry the chicken thighs or breasts for 1-2 mins on each side until they start to turn golden brown.

4.  Put them into a deep-sided oven tray and roast for 25 mins until the chicken is cooked through.

5.  Add the remaining oil to the pan, if necessary.  Cook the onions for about 5 mins until they have softened but are not coloured.  

6.  Stir the flour and mustard into the onions and cook gently for another 2 minutes.  Add the chopped apples and mushrooms.  Cook gently for 1 min. 

7.  Add the stock, blend in and bring to the boil stirring until thick before adding the cider.  Bring the sauce back to the boil, lower the heat and gently cook for 5 mins. 

8.  Add the cream and chopped sage.  Continue to cook the sauce for about 5 mins more before checking the seasoning, adding salt and black pepper as necessary.

9.  Preheat the grill to high. 

10.  Remove the chicken from the oven and place in a serving dish, pouring over the sauce so the meat is covered.

11.  Grate the cheese and sprinkle over the chicken.  Grill for 5 mins or until the cheese has melted and is golden and bubbling. 

12.  Serve with jacket potatoes and a green vegetable or salad.

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Cider ice lollies have always been one of my favourites and invariably my choice from the shop ice cream cabinet.   I was delighted, therefore, to find this recipe.  The sorbet is smooth from the apple puree and soft as the alcohol content stops it from freezing too hard.  We felt that it seemed extra cold even when soft, so it was very cooling and refreshing. 

The recipe comes from my favourite Ice Cream book: Making Ice Creams & Desserts by Joanna Farrow & Sara Lewis. I changed the title from Apple Sorbet to Cider-Apple Sorbet to indicate the inclusion of cider as some may prefer a recipe without alcohol.  The original recipe suggested that the apples were cored but unpeeled but I found removing the pieces of peel rather time consuming.  It may be that there is a nutritional, colour or flavour value from cooking apple peel, so I suggest first removing the apple peel but still cooking it with the fruit.  Peelings can easily be removed from the pan before the apple is pureed.  Originally the apples were cooked in half of the water with the remainder added before freezing, but I simplified this adding all the water at once.  Also, some green food colour was suggested to give a green tint, however I’m not too sure about additives.  Anyway I like the gentle sandy beige/pale cider colour, a similar but much paler version of commercial cider ice lollies.  If you do use colour, the book recommends making the colour just a little darker than you want when finished as Sorbet turns paler as it freezes.

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Cider-Apple Sorbet
(Serves 6-8)

500g/1¼lb Granny Smith apples (be generous!)
150g/5ozs sugar
300ml/½pint water
250ml/8fl ozs strong dry Cider
A few drops Green food colouring (optional)
Thin strips of lime rind or (reserved uncooked) apple peel to decorate

1.  Peel and core the apples.  Roughly chop the fruit and place in a saucepan with the peel, but not the cores. 

2.  Add the caster sugar and the water.  Cover and simmer for around 10 minutes or until the apples are soft.

3.  Remove the apple peel and puree the fruit (or push it through a sieve placed over a bowl).

4.  Stir the cider into the apple puree and the boiling water from the apples.  Add a very small amount of green colouring.  Omitting this will produce a soft beige/pale cider colour.  Sorbet goes lighter as it freezes so make the colour just a little darker than you want when finished.

5. Ice Cream maker:
Pour into machine and churn.   When the mixture is slushy transfer to a container and freeze.

6. By hand:
If you do not have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into a plastic container and freeze until slushy.  Remove once or twice and whisk to break up the ice crystals.  Return to freezer for at least four hours.

7. To serve:
Defrost in the fridge for about 20minutes before serving. Serve garnished with the lime rind or twists of apple peel reserved from earlier.

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Every so often I come across an ingredient that is new to me.  In 2009 Dulce de Leche kept cropping up: used as a pouring sauce topping for puddings and ice cream, in a cake at Culinary Travels (untried) and even as an Ice Cream flavour at Smitten Kitchen (also untried).  Dulce de Leche  means literally ‘sweet of milk’ in Spanish and a little research helped me to realise that it was similar to a food fashion from a few years ago which I knew by the uninspiring name of ‘tin’.  I never tried to make it, but friends told me that if you gently boiled an unopened tin of condensed milk for several hours, once it was cool it could be opened to reveal a delicious pouring toffee.  (I have since found the instructions for making Dulce de Leche in various places online: there are detailed instructions from purplefoodie and also at gastronomydomine along with a delicious sounding, but untried, by me, recipe for Banoffee Pie.  Be warned though that, despite what you read, tins can explode: it happened to a friend, although she did admit that the pan boiled dry!  There are two alternative methods listed by Fig Jam & Lime Cordial, one using a microwave and the other cooked in a bain marie/water bath in the oven.)  Having read that French supermarkets stock Confiture du Lait (literally ‘milk jam’), which is more or less the same item, after some searching I managed to find some there when I was on holiday last year (Bonne Maman brand).  I bought a jar so I could experiment at home.  I understand Dulce de Leche can be bought in the UK, but I have so far seen it just once in a local ethnic supermarket where it was rather expensive, however I haven’t looked that hard since I brought my supply home from France!  I have also read that there is a UK brand of toffee in a squeezy tube, but I have never seen it.

There are recipes for bread and butter type puddings using croissants and I remember watching one being made on television, though I have forgotten where.  It’s a bit more ‘up market’ than the basic bread & butter pudding, an example of which is the Paddington Pudding I have already added on this site.  I tracked down a recipe which added apple and toffee sauce, simply called ‘That Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding’ on the National Baking Week site which I used as a starting point for my own version.  My finished pudding is not very sweet, which we enjoyed, although being a little more generous with the toffee sauce or adding Demerara sugar over the soaked croissants would make it more so. The original recipe suggested that Calvados (Apple Brandy) or sweet sherry could be included for an ‘adult’ pudding: I decided to use just a small amount of brandy which certainly added an extra dimension.  Leave it out if you wish: I am sure the pudding will be just as delicious without.  The croissants used were left over from a church event and had been frozen for several weeks, but this did not affect the finished pudding.

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Toffee Apple Croissant (Bread & Butter) Pudding
(Serves 4)

6-8 croissants (stale is fine)
2 eggs
½pint/280ml milk 
2tbsp brandy – optional
Dulce de Leche/Confiture du Lait/’Tin’/Squeezy Toffee – to taste
½tsp vanilla extract
2ozs/60g dried fruit, sultanas or raisins are good
2-3 medium sized eating apples (I used Cox’s Orange Pippins)
juice of ½ lemon (or ‘Jif’ type bottled lemon, not squash): prevents the apples browning
10g/½oz butter, cut into small pieces
2tbsp demerara sugar (for the topping): more if you wish – optional
½pt/280ml single cream (some for mixing but most for serving)

1.  Spread the croissants generously with Dulce de Leche/Confiture du Lait or similar toffee sauce.  Cut the croissants into quarters.

2.  Butter a shallow 9-10 inch dish.  Tightly pack a layer of croissant pieces in the base of the dish, leaving as few spaces as possible.  

3.  Mix the eggs and milk together in a jug and add the vanilla extract and brandy.  Pour over the pudding, making sure the croissants are well soaked.  A little extra milk can be added if needed, depending on how many croissants have been used.  For best results, before the apple and mixed fruit are added, this dish should be left in a cool place to allow the milk mixture to fully soak into the croissants.  All day or overnight if possible, but at least 1 hour.

4.  Preheat the oven to 160oC/325oF/Gas 3. 

5.  Peel, core and slice the apples into slices.  Sprinkle with lemon juice.

6.  If you want extra sweetness then the Demerara sugar can be added either now, before adding the apples, or after the apple layer to give a crunchy finish.  Cover the soaked croissants with half of the dried fruit, then a layer of apple slices in lines to make a decorative pattern and then the remainder of the dried fruit.

7.  Dot the butter evenly over the apples.  Mix 2 tablespoons of Dulce de Leche/Confiture du Lait or similar toffee sauce with a similar quantity of cream, to give a pouring consistency and drizzle this over the whole pudding in a zig-zag pattern.

8.  If not already added, sprinkle demerara sugar over the pudding before cooking.

9.  If the dish has been in the fridge it should be allowed to come to room temperature before putting in the oven.

10. Place the pudding dish in a bain marie: a second dish carefully filled with boiling water that comes to about half way up the sides of the pudding dish. 

11. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until the apples are cooked, soft and lightly golden.

12. Serve with the remaining single cream.

See also:
Delamere Dairy Chocolate Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding untried

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This delicious recipe looks back to summer, with the taste of cider bringing memories of warm evenings, but also looks forward to winter as, especially with the addition of butter beans, it is a warming and satisfying stew.  Pork and apples are, of course, a well known and delicious combination.  This is especially good when apples are plenteous: I first made it in October, but it can be eaten at any time of year.  I put in a small (250ml size) bottle of cider brought home from our holiday in Brittany, but any type can be used.  The original recipe called for 400ml cider, but I found the smaller amount to be adequate.  Increase it if you wish.  I love butter beans, but any similar bean could be added, although perhaps not a tin of baked beans.  

The original version of this recipe was found in the Morrisons supermarket website food pages and was called Sausage & Apple Cassoulet, but I have put in several additional ingredients and have simplified the method.  I have put in two ingredients for added flavour: Herbes de Provence and dried orange peel.  This last ingredient is something I have been using quite a lot in recent months and it gives a lovely warming orange-y flavour to food, supposedly reminiscent of the Mediterranean.  The tomato and courgette are additions as well, making this a simple one pot meal, ideal for a busy week day supper.

100_8344 Sausage & Apple Cassoulet

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Sausage & Apple Cassoulet
(Serves 4)

454g/1lb pack Best Quality Pork Sausages, with Leek or Herbs if available
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1tsp Herbes de Provence
1tsp dried orange peel (see note)
4 tomatoes, quartered
1 courgette, cut lengthwise into 4 and then chunks
2 Cox’s Orange Pippin or similar eating apples
5g/½oz butter
2tbsp tomato purée
250ml/9fl ozs/½pint (just under) medium sweet cider
420g/14oz tin Butter Beans, drained
salt & black pepper

1.  Grill the sausages gently until cooked through and golden brown.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and gently cook the onion for 5 minutes.  Add the herbs and continue to cook until soft.  Remove the onion from the pan and set to one side leaving any juices in the pan.

3.  Quarter the apples, remove cores and cut into thin slices. Melt the butter in the pan used to cook the onion.  Add the apple slices and dried orange peel.  Cook gently until the apples begin to colour.

4.  Add the tomato and courgette pieces, the tomato purée and cider.  Stir well and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and cook for 5-10 minutes. 

5.  Combine the cooked onions, sausages and butter beans with the apple mixture.  Season to taste and cook gently for a further 5 minutes.  Do not cover the pan to allow the liquid to reduce but if the mixture starts to dry out then add a little boiling water.

6.  Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and black pepper.

7.  Serve with a jacket potato or with crusty bread.  A small side salad could be served if you wish, especially if cooking without the tomato and courgette I have added.

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