Sweet Potato Casserole

I goofed with this, and overbaked it so the topping actually melted down into it and it was swimming in goo. So we had sweet potato in sauce rather than the soft and cludgy bake that I remembered.

The basic idea is to layer cooked, peeled sweet potato with butter and sugary stuff, a bit of salt, maybe some rum, or nutmeg, and bake at about Gas Mark 5 for about half an hour until it's all soft, and top with marshmallow and bake for 10 – 15 minutes more so it gets a sweet crust.

I thought steaming the potatoes to cook them and peeling them afterwards would be easiest, it wasn't! Buying pre-prepared or peeling raw would be best. Don't worry if the cooked flesh loses its colour, cooking it again with the sugar will bring it back.

Next time I'm going to go with the alternative, which is to mash the potatoes with the seasonings, heat that, and flash grill the topping. It'll be easier to control the texture and sweetness.

Maple syrup is a good sweetener, but it creates that bit more liquid than brown sugar. I used salted butter, which I rarely do nowadays, and found I only needed to add a pinch of salt. Definitely a once a year treat, though.

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Cornbread Dressing

There was something about this that really reminded me of Stovetop Dressing, it was comforting and plain. John liked it and is hinting that it would be a good addition to the Christmas canon. This from someone who usually doesn’t bother with bread stuffing at all. The recipe below is what I actually did, although unless I’ve got a vegetarian on the premises again I’ll use real bacon and bacon fat next time, which the original recipe suggested.

4 slices quorn bacon, cut into shreds
4 oz butter, in two batches
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 big onion, finely chopped
2 cups crumbled cornbread
3 medium slices wholemeal bread, lightly toasted and cut into small squares (maybe about 1.5 cms?)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried sage
About 1/3 pint well-seasoned warm stock (veggie in this case, chicken would be more usual)

Fry the bacon in one lot of butter, tip it into a big bowl and fry the veggies in the next lot. Add to the bowl with all the dry ingredients, mix up well. Pile into a baking dish (I used a heavy crockery pie dish), pour on the stock to moisten and bake at Gas Mark 5 for half an hour (into the oven once the turkey’s come out would be fine).

As there’s no egg or other binding it doesn’t need cooking so much as warming through, the longer you cook it the more the bottom will get soft and the top crisp. If you’re enough of a veggie not to want the quorn bacon, it will need more salt and possibly some fake/liquid smoke of some kind. If you’re setting the oven high once the turkey’s done, for roasting potatoes, you could heat this in a heavy-bottom frying pan on the hob, or if you can fit it in, put it low down in the oven and keep an eye on it. You could, of course, actually stuff the turkey with it.

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Chocolate Pecan Pie

I wanted to do a pecan pie as well as a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but it proved difficult to get corn syrup round here, and the texture of the filling just isn't right without it. I found several recipes on the internet for a chocolate filling with pecans on the top, and eventually settled on this one. I modified it a bit, mainly because I didn't want to get a whole bottle of bourbon, and we ran into the problem of the UK commercial raw pastry shells being a bit shallow again.

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
1 cup sugar (I used muscovado)
3 tbsp. cornflour
3 eggs
1/2 cup condensed milk
2 tbsp. rum
6 oz. plain chocolate, melted
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1 1/2 cup pecans

Mix together sugar and cornflour in large bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, mix. Add condensed milk, rum, chocolate, and butter. Mix well.

Pour into pie shell (it was just a bit too much filling, but not enough to make a second pie). Add the pecans in a circular design on top of pie. Bake for 45 minutes at Gas Mark 5.

It puffed up incredibly in the oven, and shrank considerably on cooling. I was expecting something a bit more custardy, it came out like a very rich and gooey brownie in a pastry shell, with pecans on the top. The pecans scorched a bit, you could easily have put chopped pecans in the bottom or just stirred them through the mix.

I suspect that if you let the mixture set instead of cooking it, you would have a very tolerable chocolate mousse-type thing.

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World’s Easiest Cranberry Sauce

I've always made this, I don't care if everyone thinks Delia invented cranberries, she can just sod off.

  • Take a pack or box of cranberries.
  • Put them in a saucepan and just cover with orange juice.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer until the berries pop.
  • Sprinkle all over with sugar, stir it in.
  • Simmer until it's all syrupy.
  • Put in a bowl and serve hot or cold.


You can ring the changes with the liquid, although it needs some pectin / acid, and the amount and type of sugar, depending on how you like it. If you start with sugar in the liquid, the skins toughen and you will get whole berries in a thick jelly, which is fine if that's what you want, I prefer more of a jam. You can add shreds of orange peel, slivered nuts, whatever stuff takes your fancy.

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Thanksgiving Jello Salad

I don't know how exactly she made it, but this is a reasonable simulacrum of my mother-in-law's Thanksgiving Dinner Salad.

A packet of orange jello, enough to make 570 ml / 1 UK pint (I used a block of tangerine today)
A medium tin of pineapple pieces in syrup
Apple juice, less than a pint
1.5 large fresh crisp carrots
A clear glass or plastic dish that you can serve from, or a nice-shaped dish if you plan to turn it out.

Drain the pineapple well. Heat the syrup and melt the jelly into it. Make up to a pint with cold apple juice.

Pour a small amount of jelly into the dish and pop it into the fridge until it sets well around the edge. Grate the carrots, not too finely. Sprinkle the carrot into the dish, fill up with most of the rest of the jelly. Adjust the amount of carrot so that there will still be room for the pineapple and the last of the jelly.

Arrange the pineapple pieces on the top, and gently add the last of the jelly. Refrigerate until set, turn out if you like to slice, or spoon from the dish.

You can always make more jelly if you need to, for example if you've chosen a bowl-shaped dish. Don't try to use fresh pineapple, the jelly won't set. You might be able to get away with pineapple in juice, but I'm wary. And if you like to turn it out and make a centrepiece of it, you can put the pineapple in first and add maraschino cherries to make a pattern.

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Standard Cornbread

Mmm, says John, it's just like cake. Which of course, it is really. Now that I've done it I'll mess around with it, take out a lot of the sugar, for a start. Even for a sweet bread it doesn't need it. You could add dried fruit or veg (tomatoes, for instance), herbs, chillies, a cheese topping, chopped meat, to make it savoury. Recipe from 1976 edition.

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tsps baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup polenta (yellow cornmeal)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup marge

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 7. Grease a 9" square pan or dish.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the cornmeal, then beat in everything else with an electric whisk. Don't overbeat it, just until it's smooth. Pour into the dish and bake for 20 – 25 minutes.

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Tia Maria Glazed Ham

Well, I'll try most things once. I wanted a small ham to go with Thanksgiving Dinner, and for lunch later on. I baked a small smoked gammon joint as normal (Gas Mark 4, about an hour a kilo and an extra quarter of an hour). Take it out, skin it, score the fat, top it and put it back for another half hour. For the topping today, I dribbled it all over with Tia Maria, slapped some muscavado sugar onto the fat, and sprinkled that with ground cloves.

It smells great.

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Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

As part of my 70s retro Thanksgiving, I decided to get most of my recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I have a copy of the 1976 edition, which I bought in the early 80s. When push came to shove on the Pumpkin Pie, though, I went with the recipe on the can of pumpkin. How traditional is that? I don't like to buy Libby's brand, because its Nestle, but it's pretty much the only one you can get in the UK. So, here it is, translated.

Start with an unbaked pastry pie-shell. Most of the standard UK pre-bought ones are shallow, if you're using those you'll need two for this quantity of filling. Otherwise make your favourite pastry in a 9" diameter deep flan tin, with a removable bottom. I then put mine on a metal tray, just to make it easier moving it about.

To each 15 oz can of pumpkin, you'll need:

3/4 cup (about 6 oz) sugar (I used a light brown)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (12 fl oz) evaporated milk (I found a light version)

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7.

Mix the sugar and seasonings. Beat the eggs, add the pumpkin and sugar mix. Beat well, and gradually add the milk until you have a smooth custard. Pour into the pie shells. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce to Gas Mark 4. Bake for 20-30 minutes more for shallow pies, or 40-50 minutes for the deeper ones, until a skewer comes out clean.

You can eat it warm, but I like it better if you chill it until the next day, it firms up better. Cream and / or ice-cream – I have some good quality vanilla ice-cream for tomorrow. They do warn you not to freeze the pie as it will separate.

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Legendary Sprout Kebabs

Following this post last year, I made some sprout kebabs for a belated Bonfire Party last night. I didn't get very extravagant, I thought I'd try out the basic idea before messing with it.

I microwaved a pack of trimmed brussels sprouts for 7 minutes, which was the recommendation on the pack, and let them cool. I made a little bowl of spice mix using roughly ground black pepper, allspice, and freshly grated nutmeg. I took a rasher of smoked streaky bacon, dipped an end in the spices, and rolled it around a sprout until it had gone all the way round and little bit over to secure it. Stuck a bamboo skewer through it, and cut off the excess bacon. It worked out at two sprouts balls per rasher, and I put two on each skewer. I tried originally dunking the sprouts in the spice mix, but it didn't stick, whereas it clung nicely to the fatty bacon.

Cooking times would depend on method, I put them on a barbeque on a windy November evening, so they took a while, and didn't get really golden and crisp.

The sprouts were soft and delicate, with surprisingly little of that overcooked metallic brassica taste. The spice mixture set the whole thing off a treat. Most people tried one, which I didn't expect, and liked them as well. Alice is thinking about doing them as a vegetable / garnish at Christmas. We discussed the hot bread sauce as a dip to go with them, and that would certainly make a winter party item.

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