A selection from the Hogswatch buffet, including pheasant pie, pork pie, home made scotch eggs, and the Tower of Art made out of Spam in the background.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Ultra Spiced Christmas Bread

Oops. I misread teaspoons and tablespoons again, this might be a bit much. Then again, it might not, so I thought I'd better write it down. From the bread machine recipe book, with extras:

Basic White, Bake Raisin, Extra Large, 4 hours

  • 1.25 tsps yeast
  • 1 lb 5 oz strong white flour
  • 1.5  tbsps sugar
  • 1 oz butter
  • 2 tbsps milk powder
  • 1.5 tsps salt
  • 400 ml water
  • In the raisin dispenser – 5 oz mixed dried fruit – today we have cranberries, blueberries, and cherries – and 3 tbsps (should be 3 tsps cinnamon) mixed spice – 1 tbsp ground cardamom, 1.5 tbsps speculaas spice, 0.5 tbsps cinnamon.

It's in the machine now, we'll see what happens …

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Speculaas Spiced Nuts

Building on the Wasabi Cashew recipe we've tried before, I've gone with a Christmas version.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 teaspoons Speculaas spice (Dutch Christmas mixed spice)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • and mixed nuts, pecans, walnut pieces, and cashews – about 400 grams

Coated, baked at Gas Mark 6 for 7 minutes, turn, and 8 more minutes. Smells gorgeous. Increased the sugar from the original, less salt.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Maple Bacon Toffee Apple Cheesecake

This is a work in progress … I found recipes for a savoury stilton and bacon cheesecake, and also for something like an upside-down cake with toffee apples in the base, cheesecake on top, then up-end it to serve, no biscuit or cake base. I'm doing a mix and match with a cheesecake recipe I know works, and we'll see what happens.

What I'm doing is:

  • 4 rashers Waitrose maple cured bacon
  • 3 tart apples, Granny Smiths, peeled and cored
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2 tblsps brown sugar
  • 2 tblsps maple syrup
  • 250 gms digestives
  • 4 oz butter, melted
  • 12 oz cream cheese – the real stuff if you can get it, otherwise use Philly
  • 6 oz caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tblsp calvados

Finely snip the bacon and dry fry the bits until really really crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool.

In a big heavy pan, chop the apples in about half inch cubes and cook in the butter, sugar and syrup until dark golden and slightly soft, and the sauce has pretty much evaporated. Cool a bit, but not too long, I suspect it would set solid.

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4.

Make a digestive biscuit base for a 9 – 10" springform pan, by crushing the digestive biscuits and mixing with the melted butter. Press firmly into the pan.

Top with the toffee apple mixture, and sprinkle on the bacon.

Process the cream cheese, add caster sugar, eggs, and calvados and process till smooth. It's very wet.

Pour over the apples, and bake for about half an hour until set and not wobbling too much in the middle. It'll set more as it cools.

Out of the oven and looking good. I'm still debating a topping …

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Chestnut Stuffing

What with have a goose rather than a turkey, I somehow managed to avoid having anything with chestnuts in it for Christmas dinner. So this afternoon I'm baking a tray of my favourite chestnut stuffing, to have cold at Hogswatch. I've made this regularly for about 30 years now, it's a recipe by Josceline Dimbleby from the first ever Sainsbury's cookbook, her Cooking for Christmas.

  • 4 oz smoked streaky bacon, in small cubes
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 onion chopped finely
  • turkey heart and liver, chopped finely (if you've got giblets, otherwise don't bother)
  • 6 oz chopped mushrooms
  • 10 oz tin chestnut puree (unsweetened)
  • 1 small tube smooth liver pate
  • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 oz fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 whisked egg
  • salt and pepper

Fry the bacon, onion, and giblets in the butter for about 5 minutes. Scrape it all into a bowl, making sure you get all the fat, and mix in everything else. Put in a baking dish, baste with turkey juices if you're roasting a bird at the same time, and cook with the bird for the last 45 minutes.

I have taken over the years to adding a pack of ready-peeled chestnuts, crumbled, sprinkling it with sherry and chicken stock if no turkey juices are to hand, and find that 45 minutes in a square baking tray at Gas Mark 3 works fine. You can make it into balls if you're that way inclined. It sounds odd, especially that quantity of oregano, but it's very tasty and seriously moreish.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Hogswatch Pork Pie

I wanted a giant pork pie for Hogswatch, and I've amalgamated ideas from various different recipes. The main starting point for the mixture was Glynn Christian's Basic Pork Pie from Pies, Pates and Terrines from Sainsbury's, plus some additions from the Artery-Hardening Hogswatch Pie in the Nanny Ogg Cookbook. And what felt good at the time.

I mixed:

  • 1.5 kg pork mince
  • 1 Bramley apple, peel on, coarsely grated
  • 1 onion, finely chopped, about 6 oz weight
  • 3 capfuls brandy
  • 0.25 pint white wine
  • 2 fl oz manzanilla
  • 1 tsp each dried sage, allspice, nutmeg, and black pepper
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 2 heaped dessertspoons wholegrain mustard

I made a hot water pastry crust with 24 oz flour, 2 tsps salt, 250 gms lard, and a quarter pint water. I took 400 gms fancy chipolatas, with honey and rosemary, and twisted them in half – cocktail sausages.

In a 9" springform cake tin, I put three-quarters of the pastry, then half the main mix, then a layer of sausages, then the rest of the mix, and put the rest of the crust on top, leaving a central hole for breathing and addiing jelly later.

It's currently in a Gas Mark 6 oven for half an hour. Looking at the weight of meat, I think after that it'll get 2.5 hours at Gas Mark 3-4. After an hour at the lower temperature, it'll get glazed with an egg-wash.

I haven't decided on the jelly, but I think a mixture of white wine and Calvados for the liquid. It was a very wet mix, it'll probably shrink quite a bit, so I'll make well over a pint of jelly. The 12 oz I made for the game pie the other week wasn't nearly enough.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Christmas Game Pie

I often make a big raised pie for Christmas, usually following a Glynn Christian recipe. He did two Sainsbury's books, Pies, Pates and Terrines is one, and there's a Christmas one as well. There's a very good recipe for Pheasant and Caramelised Chestnut Pie in the Christmas one, but this year I started out with the Pheasant, Port and Walnut one from the PPT book. Now there were some problems with this, number one was that this pie will last through until Hogswatch and we've got a non-nut person coming. Number two was that when I went to get the main ingredients, there was no pheasant to be had, not even for ready money. I bought two wood pigeons instead, but before I got around to making the pie, I found a pack of pheasant thigh fillets and a pack of game casserole meat (all birds, no venison), and I used that instead. So, this is what I actually did, as opposed to what the recipe said.


Cut a pack of pheasant meat (thighs in this case, but breast would be good) into smallish strips and marinate in a good sprinkling of port for about half an hour. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 6.

Mince a pack of game bird meat with about 4 oz of streaky bacon, half a bunch of lemon thyme leaves, a teaspoon of dried thyme and a goodly amount of fresh ground allspice.

Mix with 1 lb minced pork and 1 lb minced veal, some more port to dampen it, and probably some salt.

Make a hot water pastry by boiling half a pint of water with half a pound of lard and a bit of salt. Pour into a well in 24 oz sifted plain flour. Mix with a knife until it comes together and is just cool enough to handle, knead it quickly. Take three-quarters of it, leave the rest in the bowl and cover it to keep it warm.

Use the big lump of pastry to line a 9" deep cake tin with a removable bottom. You don't need to roll it out, treat it like PlayDoh. Just work fast so it doesn't seize up, and make sure to get your knuckles well into the bottom around the sides so you don't get a huge wodge of pastry. And no holes! Get it as far up the sides as you can, with a little overhang if poss.

Put half the minced meat mix in the pastry case. Top with a couple of handfuls of dried blueberries, layer in the pheasant meat chunks and dribble the port on top. Cover with the rest of the mince.

Take the smaller lump of pastry and pat it about in your hands into a rough circle (like the pizza guys do). Lay it on top of the pie and push it around until you have a sealed lid. Crimp it well with the overhang from the pastry lining, to make sure you don't get cracks. Mark a cross with a sharp knife in the middle of the top, and fold the pastry corners back in little triangles, to expose the centre of the pie in about a 2" circle. Put the tin on a baking tray.

Bake at Gas Mark 6 for half an hour, then Gas Mark 3 for 2 and a half hours. After an hour at the lower temperature, brush the top with beaten egg to glaze it.

The next day when it is cool, run a sharp knife gently just under the pastry around the central hole, to loosen any stuck bits and make a clear entrance to the pie.

Soak 4 leaves of gelatine in a few spoonsful of cold water. When it is soft, put into a measuring jug and add about 4 fl oz boiling water, and some chicken stock concentrate. Stir well to dissolve, and make up to 12 fl oz in total with a mixture of port and boiling water, depending on how much port you have. I used mostly port …

Pour the jelly slowly but surely into the pie through the hole at the top. This pie sucked in all of it instantly, I've had ones in the past that needed to settle a bit between pourings.

So I might plump up some dried blueberries in port, and fill the hole at the top with them tossed in some thicker jelly, when it finally comes to serve it.

Wrap the whole thing up in foil and put in the fridge for up to a week to mature before taking out of the tin and slicing. (If you need the tin for something else in the meantime, you can take it out of the tin once the jelly is well set, and wrap it up again.)

I've got a nasty feeling this one is going to be quite dry, with not enough fat in the meat and the amount of jelly it took (sign of shrinkage, maybe?). We shall see …

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Sample Christmas Menu

Christmas menu from local catering college:
Cream of potato and watercress soup
Smoked salmon terrine served with crayfish tails and tartare dressing
Paupiette of plaice and spinach duglere (which research assures me is a white fish sauce incorporating crushed tomatoes)
Cheese fritters served on peperonata
Roast turkey
Game pie
Char-grilled sirloin steak bearnaise
Parsnip, chestnut and cranberry strudel served with forest mushroom and red wine reduction
Roast and creamed potatoes
Brussels sprouts
Puree of carrots and swede
Christmas pudding with rum sauce
Pecan truffle stuffed pear served with vanilla ice-cream and maple syrup sauce
Old English sherry trifle with syllabub sauce

The strudel could run the risk of being sweet, and is deffo v carby. The pecan pear sounds good, though …

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Brussels Sprout Kebabs

Now, someone who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty brought Brussels Sprout Kebabs to a Bonfire Party on Saturday. Which was a stroke of genius, and yes, I did try one. But all he'd done was stick 4 sprouts on a skewer and grill them. So the outside was hard and crisp and the inside was softer but chewy, where it had steamed in its own water, but not enough.

We had a long conversation about how to improve them, and came up with the following ideas:

1) probably parboiling them for a few minutes beforehand would be a good idea

2) you could thread other things in amongst them – hard nuts would not work, but chestnuts might if you were prepared for them falling apart. Thinking about it again now, halloumi cheese might be good. I know you're thinking chunks of bacon, we'll come onto that in a bit.

3) marinading or at least basting – some kind of flavoured melted butter or oil. Nut oils such as hazelnut would be good by themselves, butter – you could add finely chopped onion, garlic, nutmeg, black pepper, ground nuts such as almond or hazelnut, honey, parmesan – although not all of them at once! just a select few. This was where we starting thinking about bacon, but we didn't take it far enough.

4) the blindingly obvious thing to do, now I've been writing it down, is Sprout Rumaki. Take your parboiled sprout, cut it in half, and match it up with half a chestnut to form a globular construct. Season with your choice of spices, but don't add salt. Wrap the globe in thin fatty bacon, preferably smoked, and secure with a toothpick. Grill until the bacon is done and crispy and the insides are nice and hot. Serve with a savoury dip – creamy bread sauce would be best of all …

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Scotch Quail Eggs

Why not? especially when you can buy quail eggs ready-boiled and peeled. Little buggers.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend