Tag Archives: Christmas

In my Soup Kitchen

Happy New Year!

Dogs on haybales Boxing Day 2017

I’ve been making soup for years, ever since I first got married in the early 1980s in fact. It’s so simple and delicious, I can’t imagine why anyone would ever go to the trouble (and expense) of buying it, especially when you inevitably make far more than you need in one sitting, so can freeze the rest for another day – and of course freezing soups and casseroles always allows the flavours to mature and taste even better next time around.

Christmas is invariably an opportunity to make one of the best meat stocks from the turkey carcass – a big bird means oodles of flavour, and if you’ve been able to make giblet stock from the giblets and neck of the bird, so much the better. Supermarkets don’t seem to supply the giblets these days, but if you can buy poultry from a farm shop or butcher, it should come with the giblets. It’s a simple matter to throw them in a large pan with an onion, carrot, a few sticks of celery, couple of bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and parsley, seasoning, all topped up with water. Just bring to the boil and simmer for two hours – for me, this is the first real smell of Christmas cooking. This year I was at my son and daughter-in-law’s house, but had joined forces with my daughter-in-law’s parents to contribute the turkey to the feast, and ended up preparing the stock for the Christmas Day gravy on Christmas Eve when I arrived. The dogs enjoy their annual treat of cooked turkey liver, heart, etc on Christmas morning too, although this year it had to be shared between 5!

I usually save every last drop of vegetable cooking water to add to the stock pan when it’s time to make the stock from the turkey carcass after carving and removing all the meat from the bones, but you can use fresh water if that’s all you have. Turkey stock uses the same ingredients as giblet and chicken stock (onions, carrot, celery, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, parsley, seasoning; I sometimes add a lemon or a whole fresh chilli too, as the mood takes me), but needs a very large pan. I use a huge stainless steel stockpot, whereas I often use my slowcooker to make chicken stock overnight from a cooked chicken carcass. As before, bring to the boil, then simmer for a good two hours, allow to cool and strain off the deliciously scented liquid – ambrosia! Oh and the dogs usually enjoy the surprising quantities of meat that fall off the bones after long, slow cooking, although you could probably add them to the resulting soup if you haven’t got waiting canine assistants on hand.

This year my daughter-in-law kindly let me take the turkey carcass home to make my stock, so I was still able to make my annual favourite: turkey broth. I’m sure it has health-giving superproperties: it certainly warms the cockles of your heart and has become such a tradition in our house. It’s always a sad day when the last pot of turkey broth is taken out of the freezer… Quantities in this recipe are entirely variable – much depends on the size of your pan and what you have lying around, but you won’t go far wrong as long as the basics are there, and you can always add more liquid or boil off any extra at the end – one of the joys of soup-making. I used to make this, or its chicken equivalent, when my boys were babies, puréeing it at first (without seasoning, of course) and then as a chunky hotpot by adjusting the amount of liquid. Perfect.

Turkey Broth

1.5 – 2 litres of turkey stock
50g butter
2 onions
2-3 carrots
2-3 sticks celery
1 large potato
1 large parsnip (or swede)
1 handful pearl barley
2-3 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
Handful parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper
100-200g chopped cooked turkey meat, to taste (depending what you have left)
100g frozen peas

Chop the onions and soften in the butter in a large pan. Peel and chop the carrots, celery, potato and parsnip (or swede), then add to the pan and continue to cook until all the vegetables have softened – about 10 minutes. Stir in the pearl barley, herbs and seasoning, then add the stock and bring to the boil. Finally add the turkey meat, then turn down the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for a good 2 hours. Add the frozen peas about 5 minutes before serving in homely bowls with lots of good homemade bread.

Enjoy! Freezes beautifully.

Highland Cow Boxing Day 2017

With a house full of people over the holiday period, my soup stocks tend to go down, but not working for 10 days also allowed me to make more. Broccoli & Stilton soup was yesterday’s effort to use up the leftover Stilton from the festive cheeseboard and a head of broccoli in the bottom of the fridge that had seen better days. At the weekend I fancied a spicy golden soup to use one of my lovely Crown Prince squashes, still going strong in storage in the cool conservatory. They are so large that I only needed half for the soup, giving the other half to my son to take back to London. Browsing through my cookery books, I came across this recipe on a tiny newspaper cutting. I’m not sure where it came from originally, but it was just what I had in mind. You could, of course, use butternut squash too; in fact that’s what the original recipe specifies.

Squash & Coconut Soup – serves 6-8

Squash and coconut soup

1 large squash (butternut or Crown Prince) – you need 900g – 1kg peeled and seeded flesh
2-3 tbsp olive (or vegetable) oil
2 onions, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
generous knob of root ginger, peeled and chopped
2 red or green chillis, chopped (to taste)
zest and juice of 1-2 limes
2 bay leaves (or Kaffir lime leaves if you have them!)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
Seasoning
1 litre stock (turkey, chicken or vegetable)
400ml can coconut milk
Chopped coriander to garnish

Prepare the squash by peeling (I use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler), removing the seeds and chopping into rough chunks. Soften in the oil in a large pan. Add the chopped onions, celery, garlic, ginger and chillis and continue cooking gently for 10 minutes or so. Crush the cumin and coriander seeds with a pestle and mortar, then add to the vegetables with the turmeric and lime zest. Add the bay leaves (or chopped lime leaves if using) and seasoning. Add the stock, bring to the boil and cook for 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then purée in a liquidizer and return to the pan. Add the coconut milk and reheat. Adjust the consistency by adding more stock if necessary. Garnish with coriander leaves to serve.

Eynsford walk Boxing Day 2017
Boxing Day walk around Eynsford – photo courtesy of James Cox

Thanks to my son for the beautiful photos of the dogs perched on their hay bales and our crisp and sunny Boxing Day walk around Eynsford. The weather may not have been brilliant over the Christmas break, but at least we got a couple of nice walks in – and perfect weather for soup when we got back!

Advertisements

‘Tis the season for… Mince Pies

Mince pie time again! I usually make my own mincemeat and these days one batch lasts me a couple of years, maturing beautifully from one year to the next. I’ve experimented with a few recipes over the years, but Delia’s original recipe from her Complete Cookery Course has always been my preferred option. Usually, however, I make it back in October and leave to mature nicely before using it for the first time. This year, October and November have passed in a flash and I’ve only now realised that I’m down to my last jar of the 2013 vintage (and very nice it is too!).

Fortunately, I’d heard discussion of a quick mincemeat recipe on breakfast radio and a swift hunt online brought up a Good Food recipe that sounded just the job. Here it is, adapted to reflect some elements of my old recipe, but I’m hoping it will do the trick. It certainly smells fantastic as it infuses overnight.

Quick Mincemeat

quick-mincemeat

450g currants
450g sultanas
450g raisins
100g candied mixed peel
50g flaked almonds
1 rounded tsp mixed spice
1 rounded tsp cinnamon
1/2 fresh nutmeg, grated
Juice and grated zest of 1 large lemon
Juice and grated zest of 1 large orange
450g dark muscovado sugar
100ml brandy (I used Metaxa) or 50 ml brandy + 50 ml Amaretto
2 large cooking apples, peeled and grated
200g vegetable suet

Mix all of the ingredients, apart from the suet, in a large mixing bowl, and leave to infuse, covered with a tea towel, overnight. Mix in the suet, then spoon into sterilised jars, cover with  cellophane circles and lids. Store in a cool place; should keep for at least a year.

My all-time favourite mince pie pastry is this very rich, buttery, sweet shortcrust recipe that makes featherlight, crumbly pies. I’ve also used the sweet tart pastry from the Tarte aux Pommes recipe to great effect, but this one is the best in my view. I have no idea where it came from originally; it’s scribbled down in one of my handwritten recipe notebooks as simply “yummy mince pies”. See what you think:

Sweet shortcrust pastry

6oz butter
8oz plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water

Rub butter into flour (again, this can be grated in from a frozen block if you prefer). Stir in sugar and bind to a firm dough with the egg yolk mixed with water. You may not need all the liquid – add with care until the consistency feels just right, not too wet. Knead gently until smooth. Chill for 20-30 minutes, then roll out dough thinly on a floured surface and use as usual.

This quantity should make 24 mince pies. I use a 3″ round cutter to make the bases and then roll the trimmings again and cut out 24 tops using a star-shaped cutter, 2.5″ across. Line 2 x 12-hole patty tins with the bases, fill each with a generous teaspoon of mincemeat, then press the stars lightly on top. You can brush the edges lightly with water or milk, but the mixture is so buttery, they should hold anyway. Bake at 200°C, Gas 6 for 10-12 minutes until lightly coloured. Dust with icing sugar to serve. Serve warm.

mince-pies_cropped

Happy Christmas!

A trio of apple puds to go…

It’s that time of year again, when I’ve little time for blogging, vast amounts of urgent work (why does everything suddenly need doing before Christmas?!) and actually there’s not much doing in the garden anyway – probably just as well! It’s also the time for networking get-togethers, along with the usual festive social gatherings and this year the emphasis has been on bring-your-own affairs – a refreshing change from the overpriced and noisy Christmas lunches if you go to restaurants in the run-up to Christmas.

My default option, when asked to bring something to a party, is always a dessert, for obvious sweet-toothed reasons – and apples are often my first choice as I invariably have lots hanging from the garage rafters, just crying out to be eaten. I haven’t many dessert apples left by this stage, just a few mellow Cox types, but still plenty of Bramleys. So what to take?

My first contribution was a Toffee Apple pie, based on a Sarah Raven recipe from her lovely “Food from Family & Friends”, a great book when cooking for the masses. I’ve tweaked here and there, as ever, but it’s basically an appley take on that old favourite, the banoffee pie – and who doesn’t like that?!

Toffee Apple Pie – serves 8-12

toffee-apple-pie

150g digestive biscuits, crushed in a plastic bag with a rolling pin
75g butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tin Caramel condensed milk
5-6 large Cox apples, peeled and sliced
75g butter
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
300ml double cream (or mix of cream and natural yogurt)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Toasted flaked almonds, to garnish

Stir the crushed biscuits into the melted butter, add the cinnamon, mix well, then press the crumbs into a greased 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin (mine is about 4cm deep). Chill in the fridge while you prepare the apples.

Melt the second batch of butter in a frying pan and add the sliced apples and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Cook until golden brown and tender. My apples are so mellow by this time of year that they fall, but if you can find apples that keep their shape, so much the better – it tastes delicious either way! Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Set to one side to cool.

Gently spread the Caramel condensed milk over the flan base, taking care not to disturb the crumbs – if you’ve left it to chill sufficiently, it should be fine. Arrange the pan-fried apples evenly over the top.

Whip the cream in a large bowl with the grated orange zest (you can use a combination of cream and yogurt for a lighter topping), then spread over the apples, covering completely. Sprinkle with the toasted flaked almonds and remove the outer ring of the tin to serve.

My second pudding choice was a trusty Tarte aux Pommes from one of my first ever cookery books, an M&S paperback by Jeni Wright called Just Desserts, dating back to the early 80s – and yes, it still comes out nearly 40 years down the line! It’s also the source of another family favourite, my profiteroles…. Forgive the Imperial measurements in this recipe – as I said, it goes back a long way (and I still think primarily in Imperial when baking!).

Tarte aux Pommes – serves 8

tarte-aux-pommes

10oz plain flour
pinch of salt
2oz vanilla sugar
1 beaten egg
3-4 tsp milk
5oz butter, diced

2-3 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced
2oz butter
4oz granulated sugar (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large dessert apples
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
6 tbsp light-coloured jam (I use gooseberry, but apricot or rhubarb would work well too)
1 tbsp icing sugar

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, beaten egg and milk, then rub in the diced butter (you can use grated frozen butter too if preferred). Knead to form a dough, then chill for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile peel and slice the apples, then place in a large pan with the butter, granulated sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Cook over a gentle heat until the apples are reduced to a thick purée, stirring every so often to prevent sticking. Beat with a wooden spoon to remove any lumps. Set aside to cool.

When the pastry has chilled, roll out carefully on a floured surface to make a big enough circle to line  a greased 24cm loose-bottomed flan tin (as above). (I find I only need 2/3 of the mixture for a tart of this size, so use the remaining pastry to make a batch of mince pies.) Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in a pre-heated oven (180-200°C) for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and put it back in for another 3-4 minutes to set the base.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C, then spread the apple purée over the baked tart case. Peel the dessert apples, and slice into thin, even slices, sprinkling with lemon juice as you go to stop browning. Arrange the sliced dessert apples in an overlapping ring around the edge of the tart case and then either another ring in the opposite direction or fill the gap with rows of overlapping apples if, like mine, your apples are too large to achieve two rings even in a tin of this size!

Warm the jam in a bowl in the microwave or in a small pan with the juice of a lemon and one tbsp of water. Press through a sieve into another pan, add the icing sugar and cook until reduced and a glossy glaze has formed. Gently pour the glaze over the apples, covering completely.

Return to the oven for 30-35 minutes, covering the pastry edges with foil if they show signs of burning. Remove the outer tin to serve with whipped cream or crème fraiche.

My final to-go dessert was for an impromptu meal with friends last week, so basically involved throwing together a pudding with very little time and storecupboard ingredients. Hence my tried-and-tested Apple & almond pudding, a Delia stalwart from over the years, but one which never fails to please, especially if you’re cooking for gluten-free guests.

Enjoy!

fireside

 

Christmas Eve Traditions – Stollen and Cranberry Relish

Tree

Having had our pre-Christmas family gathering last weekend before my younger son and his girlfriend flew out to the States to spend Christmas with her American family, today has been a much quieter Christmas Eve than usual. I’m having Christmas lunch with my elder son’s fiancée’s family tomorrow, so no last-minute dinner preparations for me – that was last weekend with a venison-based dinner for 12! Oh, and Nigella’s chocolate tart for dessert – simply divine!

Christmas Eve wouldn’t feel right without doing certain traditional things, however. It’s become a tradition to make lemon cheese, and come to think of it, my grandmother (my mum’s mum) always served lemon cheese tartlets at Christmas tea too. I still have mince pies from last weekend, but Stollen is another festive treat I feel compelled to make. I made the marzipan last weekend (so much better than the bought stuff and simplicity itself to make!) and my trusty breadmaker (Panasonic) does most of the hard work. Then finally I had a last-minute call from my friends this morning to see if I had any cranberry sauce for dinner tomorrow; well, I don’t buy cranberry sauce (me?!), but it’s a matter of minutes to make if you can source cranberries at such a late hour – and again, infinitely nicer than the jars you can buy. The aromas of Stollen and cranberry relish cooking seem like the very essence of Christmas….

Stollen

1/2 tsp dried yeast (I use the organic Dove’s Farm quick yeast)

225g strong white flour

1 tsp sugar

25g butter

1 tbsp milk pwder

1/2 tsp salt

1 large egg

100ml water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

100g mixed dried fruit of your choice

150g marzipan (see below)

Place the first 10 ingredients in a breadmaker (i.e. all apart from marzipan and fruit), and prepare using Basic Raisin Dough mode, adding the dried fruit when the machine beeps – unless you have a more modern version than mine, in which case you may well have a basket that neatly releases the fruit at the necessary time! Do NOT be tempted to add the fruit at the start, as the mixing process chops it to smithereens – not the effect you want! When ready, roll the dough out on a floured surface to a slipper shape about 20cm long and maybe 15cm or so across. Wet the edges lightly with cold water and then roll your marzipan into two long sausages, just shorter than the length of the dough. Place in two lines down the centre of the dough, then neatly wrap the dough over, pressing into the middle to ensure there is dough between the two marzipan logs. (You can make one fatter marzipan sausage too, but I quite like the double hit of marzipan you achieve this way.) Flip over and place on a greased baking sheet, cover with oiled clingfilm, then leave to prove for 2-3 hours in a warm kitchen (less if you have an airing cupboard or proving drawer!).

Stollen uncooked

Heat oven to 180°C, Gas 5, then brush the Stollen with milk or beaten egg and cook for 20-25 minutes until golden-brown and firm underneath. Brush with melted butter whilst still warm and dredge with icing sugar.

Serve warm with tea or mulled wine. Any leftovers are delicious toasted for breakfast too!

Stollen

Marzipan

225g ground almonds

225g icing sugar, sifted

225g caster sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

Put the almonds, icing and caster sugar into a large bowl and mix well. Beat in the remaining ingredients, until the paste is soft but not sticky. You may end up using your hands as it’s easier! Knead on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar until smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and store in the fridge until ready to use.

This amount makes plenty to cover a 20/25cm Christmas cake or to fill several Stollens and keeps well in the fridge. Also delicious as a topping for mince pies or mixed with apples, plums or apricots in pies….

Marzipan

Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

 250 g fresh cranberries

5 tbsp port

1 orange, grated rind and juice

50g caster sugar

Put cranberries, orange juice and grated rind and port in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes or until the berries start to burst. Add sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture thickens. Cool, then refrigerate until required.

Happy Christmas!

Viburnum Charles Lamont Dec 2015

Viburnum Charles Lamont in full bloom