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Showing posts from December, 2009

Mince Pies At Last

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This post is a little late since I’ve missed the real mince pie season, but it’s the end of a long journey for me so I think I should record it. I admit to not being a huge fan of mince pies, and I probably wouldn’t bother with them at all if it weren’t for the fact that my wife really likes them. So it’s been a challenge for some time to produce one which I could honestly say that I liked.



The first hurdle was the mincemeat itself which often feels to me like wading through fat – I don’t really get the point of suet at all. Last year I found Pam Corbin's recipe for suet-free mincemeat, based on cooking down plums before adding the more usual bits together with a drop of sloe gin. It’s healthier but, more importantly, tastes fresh and fruity.

But last year’s mince pies still didn’t really work for me because the pastry just didn’t seem right. This year we tried Orlando Murrin's pastry from the recipe Unbelievably Easy Mince Pies on the BBC site, which gives a crumbly pastry …

Chicken Noodle Salad

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This salad could be made with leftover chicken, or, given the time of year, even leftover turkey. I try not to have too much to do with turkeys - we've always had a strained relationship. It's some years since I cooked a Christmas turkey and on that occasion the bird was still in a garage in Widnes on Christmas morning and nobody could quite remember which garage.


This recipe will serve 2 people.

A few chicken thighs with skin on and bone in; 4 maybe, but as many as you feel like eating
2 portions of medium egg noodles (around 125 g altogether, uncooked)
A good handful of green beans
6 smallish or 4 large spring onions

For cooking the chicken:
     1 scant tsp 5-spice powder
     3 tbsp dark soy sauce
     1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
     2 tsp sesame oil

For the dressing:
     2 tbsp dark soy sauce
     2 tbsp light soy sauce
     1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
     2 tsp sesame oil
     1 tbsp sherry vinegar
     2 heaped tsp soft, brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 170°C (for a fan oven, …

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Salad

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I put this dish together as my effort to meet the Real Epicurean In the Bag challenge for December. The challenge is to create a dish using cranberries, clementines or mandarins and nuts. To be honest that sounded a bit too Christmassy for me - Christmas doesn’t come very high on my list of favourite times of the year. But then I thought why shouldn’t I be using these really good ingredients when they’re at their best? It’s not their fault that they get slopped on to turkey or turn up at the bottom of Santa’s sack. So I've had a go.


This salad will serve 4 as part of a mezze or 2 as a light lunch with some flatbreads or something of that kind.

1 green pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
3 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, around 600 – 650 g unpeeled weight
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chilli powder
350 ml vegetable stock
2 tsp lemon juice
3 tsp clementine juice
2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 clementines, divided into segments
A generous handful of cranberries
A generou…

Pepper Soup with Almond Butter

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You can use red, yellow or orange peppers for this soup or a mix of colours depending on what’s available and the colour that you want to end up with. Don’t use green – or purple or black for that matter, which I think are just green peppers disguising themselves. The idea of this soup is to have some background spice with a hint of heat but without overwhelming the taste of the peppers and almonds.  To provide the spice this recipe uses ras el hanout, which varies a lot from one spice seller to the next so it may be necessary vary the amount. If the blend is already hot, then leave out the chilli flakes.

I used a jar of almond butter but you can make your own purée from roasted almonds and possibly a little salt – it’s not difficult, it’s just a bit of a faff. There’s plenty of guidance around if you want to try – on C'est moi qui l'ai fait ! for instance.




This recipe makes around 4 bowlfuls.

4 peppers (red, yellow or orange)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 potato (around 250 g is …

Toulouse Pork and Beans

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I like to use Toulouse sausages for this recipe (or at least English versions of Toulouse sausage) but I wish to make it very clear that this is dish has no connection with cassoulet. I went to Castelnaudary fairly recently and I now realise just how seriously that dish is taken. My internal picture of Castelnaudary is a little like this:
Unfair, of course, and I'm sure that  La Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary would see it differently.

This should warm up 2 hungry people on a very cold day.

100 g pancetta cubes or lardons (one of the small packs you can get  in the supermarket is just the right size)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ - 1 tsp paprika
½ glass red wine
400 g tin of chopped tomatoes
400 g tin cannellini beans
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp tomato purée
6 Toulouse sausages (that is English-sized sausages)
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
A few chopped leaves of oregano
2 – 3 handfuls of breadcrumbs (any sort will work, but really c…

Jerusalem Artichoke and Carrot Soup

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This recipe makes around 6 bowlfuls.1 medium onion, finely chopped 
500 g Jerusalem artichokes (unpeeled weight)
1 baking potato (ideally around 300 g in weight – definitely not more than this, anyway)
500 g carrots, peeled and sliced
1 or 2 garlic cloves
A generous splash of marsala
1 litre vegetable stock
A few thyme leaves (don’t overdo it)
A squeeze or two of lemon juice Take a big pan - one that you have a lid for - and soften the onion in it with a spray of oil. If the onion looks like it might take on some colour add a little water. While that’s happening, peel the Jerusalem artichokes as carefully as you can be bothered (as long as they’re clean a little bit of skin won’t really hurt), cut them into chunks and drop them into water with lemon juice added to prevent them going brown. Peel and cut the potato into chunks. Crush the garlic, stir it into the onions and continue cooking for a minute or so. Add the Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and …

Breadmaker Lemon and Almond Brioche

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No doubt I should be far more authentic and homely and do my own proving and kneading without the aid of a machine. Well I do sometimes, but I really like my breadmaker. This recipe is a simple extension of the basic brioche loaf recipe provided with the machine but I’ve added ground almonds and flavoured it with lemon and vanilla in line with some brioche that I’ve seen on sale in France.

I use a Panasonic breadmaker for this recipe, but for most other machines the liquid will need to go in first. I really like vanilla bean paste, but extract will do fine instead.

1 tsp dried, fast action yeast
400 g strong white bread flour
50 g ground almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp sugar (golden caster sugar works well)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp (or thereabouts) vanilla bean paste
100 g softened, unsalted butter
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
150 ml milk

Ideally, the ingredients should be at room temperature. Add the ingredients in the order stated and bake with the following settings:

“Basic” bake
“Mediu…