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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Classic Spinach Dip

How could I have forgotten this one? a staple of every party of the mid-eighties. This is from an ad in Bon Appetit December 1986.

Take:

  • 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1.5 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 packet Knorr Vegetable Soup Mix
  • 1 x 8 oz can water chestnuts, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped

Mix the whole lot up well, chill for a couple of hours, so that the soup can dissolve into the dip. There was something about this one that was really yummy. The salt and MSG, I expect. You could easily make this healthier, with a low-salt low-fat soup mix, and low-fat fromage frais or similar instead of the cream and mayonnaise.

 

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Red Couscous

Following the M&S couscous salad the other week, I decided to make something similar for a party tomorrow. I got down a big mixing bowl, and:

Filled it about a third full with dry couscous and added a little salt and enough boiling water to cover it plus about half an inch, and left it for 5 minutes.

Got out the food processor and roughly chopped:

  • a large red onion
  • a seedless clementine
  • half a packet of frozen raw cranberries
  • a handful of organic dried apricots

When the couscous had absorbed all the water, I fluffed it up and added the veggie mix, along with a drained tin of chickpeas. I would have put in two tins if I'd had them, it would have improved the texture.

Then I put the processor back together again (unrinsed) and blended:

  • a huge bunch of fresh coriander, stalks and all
  • orange juice (about a mugful)
  • lemon juice (about a half a cup)
  • 2 teaspoons rose water
  • enough olive oil to make it look like a salad dressing
  • lots of spices, biggest amount first - mixed spice, cinnamon, paprika, ginger, oregano, thyme, cardamom, nutmeg
  • three heaped teaspoons chopped garlic from the jar

until the coriander was quite finely chopped, then I poured it over the couscous.

Before I mixed it in I also added:

  • a handful of very good dried sweetened cranberries, that were almost like glace cherries
  • a mugful of raisins
  • a mugful of flaked almonds
  • half a mug of dried barberries
  • half a mug of dried pomegranate seeds
  • half a mug of raw pumpkin seeds

I stirred it all well, and topped it up by sprinkling some of the still hot water over it – when the dressing starts to get absorbed it will dry out. It felt like making a really good Christmas pudding.

Tomorrow I will taste it again, and see if it needs more salt, I don't use a lot of salt automatically anymore and tend not to add enough. Also for sweetness – it's going to be one of those things that initially tastes very sharp but has a lot of lasting sweetness in it, so the first taste might need mellowing and the longer tones sharpening – honey and onion will do that nicely. And for heat – it will need just a little kick and some more paprika or even cayenne might be in order.

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Parmesan Gelato on Red Wine Toast with Balsamic Glaze

I'm trying to focus on more healthy food at the moment, but this was just too weird to pass on. It's a party dish, quantities are for 25 – 30 canape portions. I don't think you'd want to eat a lot of this … and it would take up a lot of space in the fridge to prepare. From delicious magazine, January 2004, recipe by Valli Little.

  • 150 gms grated Parmesan
  • 375 ml double cream
  • pinch of paprika
  • 250 ml balsamic vinegar
  • 1 baguette, sliced
  • 125 ml red wine
  • olive oil
  • 1 -2 garlic cloves, peeled

Put the cheese, cream and paprika in a bowl of simmering water, stir until the Parmesan has melted, season. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing through with a spoon. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

Simmer the balsamic vinegar until reduced by half. Cool. (Or you can buy ready-made glaze, I've got some somewhere.)

Using a small ice-cream scoop, place scoops of the cheese gelato on a lined tray and return to the fridge.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4. Drizzle the bread slices with the red wine, brush with oil, lay out on a baking tray and cook 6 – 8 minutes until golden. Rub with the garlic while still warm. Cool.

To assemble – put a scoop of gelato onto each toast, drizzle with glaze.

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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.

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Bog-standard Trifle

I've got a wonderful trifle dish, which is actually the glass bowl bit out of a dead washing machine. I'm making a standard trifle in it today, which is:

 

  • 1 bought Madeira cake
  • Raspberry jam / conserve
  • Madeira or cream sherry
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 dessertspoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour
  • 2 pints double cream
  • Fresh raspberries

Slice the madeira cake and sandwich the slices back together with raspberry jam, in whatever shape is convenient for your bowl. Sprinkle with plenty of booze to soak well in. Today we're using ordinary raspberry jam, but soaking in Blandy's Avada 5 year old sweet Madeira.

Make a custard – in a bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour. Heat one of the pints of cream to nearly boiling, pour over the egg mixture in a stream, whisking as you go. Put back in the pan, and heat gently until well thick. Pour it over the sponges, banging it up and down a couple of times to make sure it settles well around the sponges. Leave to cool and set.

When it's cool, whip the second pint of cream, with booze and flavourings if you like, and spread over the top. If you're using a bowl shaped like mine, that's wider at the top than the bottom, you may need more cream to get a decent layer.

Decorate the top with fresh raspberries.

This is actually better the next day, but if you're leaving it for a while you might want to wait on the raspberries.

Variants – blueberries (jam and fresh for the top), cranberries ditto – but sweetened dried for the top, fresh is too tart, chopped nuts on top, some people put fruit in amongst the sponge, but I'm a bit of a purist about that, you can put vanilla in the custard if you must.

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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 …

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Chicken Liver Parfait

Another one based on Glynn Christian's Pies, Pates and Terrines. Scaled up, with variations. Makes a beautiful smooth mild creamy pate, great for parties. Keeps well in the fridge if sealed with fat on the top.

  • 150 gms butter
  • 1 medium size onion, finely chopped (about 6 oz)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 750 gms chicken livers, cleaned, but left whole (3 tubs if you bought frozen)
  • 5 fl oz double cream (or possibly more, you want about 6 tablespoons of whipped cream by the end)
  • seasoning and flavourings, see below
  • butter / goose fat to seal

Melt the butter, in a fairly big heavy frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook gently until soft but not coloured, don't let the butter scorch. Add the chicken livers, and cook for about 5 minutes – don't stir them or poke them about, just let them set in the warm butter. They should still be pink inside. After 5 minutes, turn them over once, so the pink side is down, and turn the heat off. This is important now, let the mixture cool, not until it's set solid, but so that the fat is thickening and it's definitely not warm. It can easily take over two hours, especially if your kitchen is warm, so go find something else to do. Process in the whizzy-thing until perfectly smooth – the solidifying fat gives a good air content and a moussey texture. Whip the cream until thick, in a big bowl. Fold in the pate mix, and your chosen flavourings. Salt of some kind is good, and about 6 tablespoons of some kind of liquid – alcohol is usual.

Today I'm using brandy and crushed green peppercorns, but we've also had pernod and dried tarragon, prunes and calvados, or any plumped-up dried fruit left over after making flavoured vodkas.

Smooth into a serving dish, with a bit of room left at the top. Melt butter, let the solids sink to the bottom, and pour the clear fat onto the top to seal. You can put bits of greenery into that to decorate, or peppercorns, or whatever. Or you can just melt butter and poultry fat together, and use that. Make sure it's well covered to seal. Keep in the fridge, I think it's best left for a day or so to mature the flavours.

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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.

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Stilton and Pecan biscuits

From the ASDA freebie Christmas magazine, December 2006. Says 66 cals per biscuit, this amount makes 44 biscuits, should cost 6p each.

  • 225 gms plain flour
  • 0.25 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 0.25 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 125 gms butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 50 gms stilton, crumbled
  • 75 gms mature cheddar, grated
  • 75 gms pecans (or 44 whole or pieces of broken nuts)
  • 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten – ed: – separately, you need them at different stages
  • coarse salt
  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4. Line 2 baking trays with paper.
  2. Sift flour, cayenne and mustard together.
  3. Add butter and rub in until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add cheeses, and 1 egg. Mix until it forms a dough. Knead lightly. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Roll out between 2 sheets of clingfilm to a thickness of 5 mm. Cut into rounds. Put on baking trays.
  5. Brush with egg and put a pecan on each. Sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire tray.

What a pants recipe. It probably works, but they could have told you to keep the eggs separate, if I see "2 medium eggs, lightly beaten", I beat together 2 eggs. Idiots. And I'm thinking that rolling out a cheese dough between 2 sheets of clingfilm, as thin as 5 mm, would not be as straightforward as they make it sound. It tells you 44 biscuits @ 5 mm thick, but not how big the rounds should be. They'd have to be pretty small to get 44 on to 2 baking trays, but then, do they tell you what size baking trays? No. If you're supposed to put a whole pecan on each of 44 biscuits, I think you might need more than 75 gms.

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