Friday, 22 December 2006

Christmas Bits

Minced Pies
I used to dread the omnipresence of mince pies in these foggy isles every Christmas. They have definitely grown on me (means I can tolerate the shop-bought variety) these past few years though I'm still not fond of them. So I was always on the lookout for recipes that is less sweet, less boozy, and with much better pastry. I spied Gordon Ramsay's mince pie recipe from a Sunday newspaper a few weeks ago which I promptly clipped and stowed away. Last weekend I decided to give it a go. Although I found the pastry making a bit on the fiddly side, the rest was quite straight forward and not too complicated. One significant adjustment I made was that I have to reduce the liquid in the pastry by half because it made it very soft so I consequently had problems doing the cutter routine that in the end I just pressed them all in the muffin pans.

The product of my labour only satisfied my tastebud a day after baking. Imagine, I was ready to chuck it down the bin after I've baked it since I found it a bit too sweet but a day or two later it cooled off completely and the flavours mellowed - it tasted fab! It still had that strong punch from the mince meat (no meats in it really), the nuts giving it some interesting texture and nutty background (duh!) and just enough sugariness to qualify it to the level of dessert. Well, here's another item in my Christmas bake-off that I'll be pressing in my long-suffering friends' hands. :)

Mince Pies

Mince Pies

*For the mincemeat:
1 crisp dessert apple - grated
100 g  [scant 1/2 cup] butter - melted and cooled
110 g  [3/4 cup] finely chopped dried apricots
250 g  [1 1/2 cups] sultanas or raisins
175 g  [packed 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup] soft dark brown sugar
zest and juice of 1 small orange
zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
50 g  chopped toasted almonds
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp dark rum
2 Tbsp brandy

*For the pastry:
125 g  [1/2 cup] cold unsalted butter - diced
250 g  [heaping 2 cups] plain flour
125 g  [3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp] icing sugar (confectioner's)
pinch of sea salt
1 vanilla pod
1 large egg - lightly beaten

*For the crumble topping:
75 g  [1/2 cup] plain flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
50 g  unsalted butter
3 Tbsp chopped roasted hazelnuts
50 g  [1/3 cup] demerara sugar
  • For the mincemeat:
    1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined.
    2. Cover with clingfilm and let marinate overnight in the fridge.

  • For the pastry:
    1. Split the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds in the beaten egg, mix well.
    2. Tip in the flour, salt, icing sugar, and diced butter in a food processor and blitz until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
    3. *OR*
    4. In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and icing sugar.
    5. Cut in the diced butter in the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or 2 butter knives until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
    6. Add in the egg and vanilla mixture and pulse/mix until it comes together into a dough.
    7. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough lightly for a few seconds just long enough to make it smooth.
    8. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in fridge for about 30 minutes.

  • For the topping:
    1. Sift flour and cinnamon in a bowl.
    2. Cut in the diced butter in the flour mixture and rub in until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
    3. Add in the sugar and hazelnuts. Set aside.

  • To assemble:
    1. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 1/8 inch.
    2. Cut out 3-inch/8-cm rounds and press into muffin or minced pie pans.*
    3. Put about 1 heaping tablespoon of the minced meat in the pastry shell.
    4. Sprinkle enough topping to cover the minced meat.
    5. Bake in a preheated oven of 190°C/fan 170°C/375°F for 15 minutes.
    6. Let cool in the pan for about 2 minutes then pry off and cool completely on a wire rack. This is best eaten 1 or more days later.

*Note: You can also roll the pastry into 1-inch balls and press it in the bottom and sides of the muffin pan.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Mustard Pork Chops and Colcannon

I'm not too proud of my picture here. I'm afraid my camera's about to die on me soon. There's something about rushing to serve dinner while its still warm that intrudes in the frantic trying to capture a stick-it-in-the-plate image. Somehow it doesn't jell.

That night we were hankering for something not adobo, or with tomato sauce or with noodles. Something not Asian or Oriental. What to do? A rummage thru my magazine clippings yielded this simple recipe from the 2005 calendar of Delicious magazine.

Colcannon sounds rustic at the same time complicated. When everything's revealed - tada! It's simply mashed potatoes with veggies in it! Quite a good departure from your average mash. The veggies gives it more texture, colour and health-cred. While the pork chops were simply seasoned with salt and mustard then grilled until fully cooked. Lovely!

Mustard Pork Chops and Colcannon


700 g  floury potatoes (Maris Piper or King Edward)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 small onion - chopped
2 springs fresh thyme - leaves picked
1/2 small savoy cabbage - shredded
  1. Peel and chop potatoes to even chunks. Boil in a large pan of water (or you can steam it) until tender - about 20 minutes.
  2. Drain and return to the pan and return to the heat for 1 minute, shaking occassionally to dry off excess moisture. If you're steaming you don't have to do this.
  3. Mash potatoes with half the butter and all of the milk. Season and stir until smooth and creamy.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a saucepan and fry the onion and thyme until onion is translucent (about 5-6 minutes).
  5. Add the cabbage and about 1-2 Tbsp of water. Cover and cook in medium heat for about 8-10 minutes or until soft.
  6. Mix in cooked cabbage with the mashed potatoes. Stir until well combined.
  7. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Mustard Pork Chop

4 x 225 g  pork loin chops
2 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
salt to taste
  1. Season pork chops on both sides with salt.
  2. Divide the mustard between the chops and spread evenly.
  3. Grill for 4-5 minutes each side until golden and cooked through.
  4. Serve pork chops with the colcannon.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Apple & Cheese Cake

Apple & Cheese Cake
I can't tell you how many times I have longingly looked at the picture of this cake from the pages of the November 1996 edition of the Good Housekeeping magazine. Now that I've finally made it I realised that I have to do some adjustment next time around. I couldn't quite place this cake whether to categorise on the sweet or savoury side. Could it be that I used cheddar instead of caerphilly? It certainly was not very sweet and the generous amount of cheese in it made it a bit salty. I did enjoy it more as a snack rather than as a dessert. Strong coffee or tea certainly goes well with this.

Apple & Cheese Cake

550 g  dessert apples - chopped [about 3 cups]
50 g  Brazil nuts or walnuts - chopped [1/2 cup]
1/3 cup sunflower oil
175 g  [1 1/3 cups] self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
75 g  [1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp] light muscovado sugar
100 g  [2/3 cups] raisins or sultanas or combination of both
2 eggs
200 g  cheddar or Caerphilly or Wensleydale cheese - grated or crumbled
icing sugar for dusting (optional)
  1. Grease a 9-inch (23 cm) deep tart pan. Preheat oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F.
  2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
  3. Stir in sugar, raisins and sultanas (if using), nuts and apples.
  4. Beat eggs and oil in another bowl.
  5. Stir in the egg mixture to the flour mixture.
  6. Put half of batter in the tart pan.
  7. Sprinkle cheese on top.
  8. Spoon the rest of the batter on top of the cheese.
  9. Bake for 50 mins - 1 hour or until firm in the centre.
  10. Cool completely then sprinkle with icing sugar.