Sausage Pie

I bought a tube of good sausagemeat at the farmers' market on Thursday. Today I spread it in the bottom of a square baking dish (it came out about a quarter inch thick). Then I topped it with some slabs of mature cheddar, and spread those with wholegrain mustard. I had a tin of pear halves hanging about, so I put a half a pear in each corner of the dish. Topped the whole lot with a square of ready rolled puff pastry, and baked at gas mark 7 for 40 minutes.

We ate all of it, with some peas, but with some more forethought and some potatoes and other veg, it would have easily served four.

I've been thinking of variations –

  • cheese and branston pickle
  • a layer of braised red cabbage, maybe with chestnuts
  • apple sauce or chunks of apple instead of the pear
  • cranberries
  • a chunky tomato sauce
  • hard boiled eggs
  • apricots / dried fruit and maybe some curry powder
  • blue cheese and braised celery or chicory

all of them easy to do, easy to make in advance, cheap, filling and tasty.

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Banana Tarte Tatin

Today I've seen three references to Banana and Cardamom Tarte Tatin, one with a caramel topping flavoured with star anise.

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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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23rd Dec

The eve of Christmas Eve – lunch, salad with clementine slices, shallots, lime-dressed beetroot, and prawns. With sesame crispbreads.

Dinner, braising steak cooked a long slow time in the oven with red wine, thyme, allspice, garlic, shallots, leek, celery, carrot and parsnip. With stir-fried broccoli in garlic sauce and granary bread fresh out of the machine.

Pudding – bought-in coconut and lime tart, with fresh blueberries and cream.

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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 …

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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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Mincepie Taste Test

Having tried Waitrose own brand, various other retail ones through buffets at work, and Duchy Organic, we had the final trial of M&S mincepies this evening. We've selected deep fill for all products, where available. The regular (Classic) ones had good pastry, probably because it wasn't all butter, but the mincemeat wasn't exactly exciting. Unlike many others (Duchy Organic being the worst) the proportion of pastry to mincemeat was good too. The Duchy pastry was lovely, but there was far too much of it, very thick.

M&S Luxury were good, and left a lovely aftertaste, very orange peel and cherry, with an alcohol over-note. The pastry wasn't right, though.

The Connoisseur ones were excellent – moist mincemeat with plenty of fruit and booze, the pastry was better than the Luxury ones. The taste hit you full on, they would be lovely warmed with some thick cream or rum butter. They're still not quite right, but they are the best we've had, and I'll go and stock up later in the week.

I noticed today that they also do some puff pastry ones, and little ones with special toppings. Might as well …

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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 …

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Somerset Brie and Spiced Plum Tart

Another pickup from a menu title: Somerset Brie and Spiced Plum Tart with a watercress salad. I would imagine either crisp shortcrust or flaky pastry, a spiced plum compote base, maybe peeled halved plums stewed and laid in it. Topped with slices of brie, rubbed with garlic, maybe? and just heated through to melting. You could get stupidly rich and make a small tart case the size to take a whole camembert or mini-brie, bake it, scoop off the lid peel and top with a warm compote just before serving – but that would be way too much for a starter, which is what this nominally is.

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Special Sausage Rolls

If you're home-making sausage rolls for Christmas, why not use good quality sausagemeat, mixed up with lots of fresh parsley, toasted chopped walnuts and crumbled Stilton? 

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