Traditional Homemade Mince Pies (and mincemeat)

December is here, so time to legitimately eat our own bodyweight in mince pies! I’ve been thinking about making mince pies for a long time – my gran used to do so, as did my mother but over time that changed. Home made mincemeat was replaced with shop bought, and ultimately my mum started buying her mince pies rather than buying them.

I wanted to have a go at making my own, but my mum was unable to track down my gran’s recipe for mincemeat. I was then going to have a go at making Nigella’s cranberry and port mincemeat but couldn’t find any fresh cranberries, so I decided to have a go at making up my own recipe! Fortunately, it was a success.

There are a lot of recipes out there for mincemeat, but they vary widely. Many use suet, although Mary Berry prefers the taste of butter. There’s usually cinnamon, but after that the spices vary from recipe to recipe. There’s usually some nutmeg and either some allspice or some mixed spice. After a bit of thought and indecision I came up with the following recipe, which makes enough to fill two jam jars with mincemeat, or 24 mince pies:

  • 75g of unsalted butter
  • 125g of soft brown sugar
  • Zest and juice of a clementine
  • 75g dried cranberries
  • 400g seedless raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • About 1/2 of a nutmeg, grated
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons of port
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy

The method is really simple. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan over a low heat. When they’re well mixed, add the spices and the dried fruit and stir well – I cooked this for about 10 or 15 minutes. Finally, add the alcohol and mix in. If it seems a little too wet, you can always leave the heat on for a little longer – but as the butter cools the mixture will thicken up.

I then made a batch of sweet shortcrust pastry (125g unsalted butter, 50g caster sugar, 1 large egg, 200g plain flour, 2g salt) which was enough for 18 small mince pies using half the mincemeat, and 12 slightly larger pies using the other half.

Delicious! I definitely recommend making your own mincemeat – it’s surprisingly easy and the above recipe seems to work really well!

Chicken Korma

We’ve not yet made anything from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand which hasn’t been anything short of delicious. That said, we’ve tried lots of recipes for curries over the years and often find that there’s something missing… so we were curious to see what Diana’s recipe for chicken korma turned out like.

First thing you need to know here is that this recipe takes a long time. I think end to end I was probably in the kitchen for about 2 hours. This is because there are quite a few separate things you need to do, some of which take quite a lot of time. You have to salt some chopped onions and leave them to drain for 30 minutes; you also have to soak some saffron for a long time… none of it is especially hard, but there are just a lot of things keep track of.

You also have to use the food processor a few times – firstly you fry the onions and then you have to blitz them into a paste. Separately you have to soak some nuts in hot water and then blitz those into a separate paste. It’s certainly enough to keep you busy!

But as I said none of this is hard, and the end result is definitely worth it. Is it the most authentic tasting curry I’ve ever made? Hmmm… probably not, but it’s tough to say with a korma because it’s such a rich rather than spicy dish. It certainly tasted close to the real thing, and it certainly tasted delicious. Time consuming, but worth the effort.

Parsee Chicken with Apricots

Something nice and spicy today from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand.

We’ve raved about this book often enough, but this meal is a prime example of why we love it so much – it’s easy to put together and doesn’t call upon any especially exotic ingredients but the end result is a really tasty, comforting and spicy meal – but also noticeably unique from the myriad of other chicken recipes you can find in other books.

I’d eat this again and again – possibly the apricots appealing to my sweet tooth, but it was a real treat of a meal.

Cider and Five Spice Bundt Cake

Last week’s bundt was a hit, so we decided to get our money’s worth from the bundt tin and make another. It’s another Nigella recipe this time, but it comes from her most recent book, Simply Nigella.

The ingredients for this cake are, well, to be frank, a bit weird. Cider? Chinese five spice? And it’s described as a ginger like cake but there’s no dried ginger in here, only some fresh.

The first step is mixing the wet ingredients – Nigella uses vegetable oil, but I only had olive oil to hand and used that. This is then mixed with treacle and brown sugar, plus the cider which has been opened in advance to remove some of its fizz. Deliciously, we only needed half the bottle of cider so the other was a mid-afternoon treat! Mixing these ingredients is touch – the treacle kept getting clogged up in my whisk but eventually it dissolved… sort of! It was a bit of a weird consistency but seemed OK. Also, I should mention that I didn’t have enough treacle and so replace the last 100g with an equivalent weight of golden syrup.

In a separate bowl you then mix the dry ingredients and then pour them into the wet ones, beating all the time to try and avoid any clumps of flour. The resulting batter is very runny but it smells amazing.

After about 45 minutes in the oven the cake emerged and it’s utterly delicious. Kind of like a rich ginger cake, but with a different level of spice – quite similar to German Lebkuchen actually. We’ve found its dense consistency goes really well with double cream!

Maple & Pecan Bundt Cake

Mark’s been hankering for a bundt tin for quite some time but we never seem to see many of them in the stores here in the UK (or at least, not attractive ones… most seem pretty plain, and surely the whole point of a bundt tin is that it should be highly decorative?).

Mark’s done plenty of research in the meantime and come to the conclusions that a) Nordic Ware bundt tins seem to get the best reviews and b) they’re more expensive than most others. So we would often hunt through stores like HomeSense in the hope that they may have some in stock – they never did, until this weekend! Suddenly we were spoilt for choice and came home with a new cake tin to use! I can’t find the exact one on Amazon, but this one is pretty similar.

The first recipe book I had to hand was good old Nigella Kitchen, and it has a recipe for a maple and pecan bundt. They’re basically two of my favourite things so it seemed a no brainer to make this one!

The ingredient list isn’t too exotic – creme fraiche, pecans and maple syrup were the only things we didn’t already have in the cupboard or fridge. The method is a bit fiddly though – basically you need three bowls on the go.

In the first you mix butter and flour with a fork to create a kind of crumble. To this you add chopped pecans, a teaspoon of cinnamon and some maple syrup, then mix it all together with a fork to create the most amazing smelling mixture – this is your filling.

Next mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in a second bowl.

In a third bowl, cream butter and caster sugar together. Add a tablespoon of the flour mixture to this and beat in, followed by an egg, then another tablespoon of flour, and then another egg. Beat it together after each addition, and then add the rest of the flour. The resulting mixture is pretty stiff so you may get tired when doing this! Finally, the creme fraiche gets added to this.

To assemble, pour about 2/3 of the mixture into the bundt tin. It’s a thick mixture, so you can then make a bit of a “trough” into which you pour the nutty filling. The important thing is that the filling shouldn’t touch the sides of the tin – you want in encased within the cake. You use the rest of the mixture to cover it up, and then bake in the over for 30 – 40 minutes. Once it’s out and cooled you dust it with a bit of icing sugar. It looks so pretty, Nigella herself even retweeted our photo!

A tip from Nigella – she suggests oiling the inside of the bundt tin first and standing it upside down over some newspaper whilst you get on with the rest. This way it’s oiled, but not too oily (it seemed to work for us, the cake came out of the tin really easily).

The result cake is lovely – the sponge itself is fairly plain and light, but the sweet and nutty filling gives a great contrast. Delicious and beautiful!

West African Chicken & Peanut Stew

This is a new one for us – an evening meal which features peanut butter as a main ingredient. Don’t get me wrong, we love the stuff, it’s just that we’re more familiar having it on toast… or possibly just eating it with a spoon straight from the jar…

This Diana Henry recipe (as ever, from A Bird in the Hand) is a lengthy one, as evidenced by our “before” photo. On closer inspection though, there’s nothing fancy here and if you have a reasonably stocked spice cupboard then you’ll have pretty much everything you need anyway.

It’s very strange to make the sauce by dissolving peanut butter into chicken stock, but the resulting meal is utterly fabulous – substantial and satisfying with a great nutty flavour and smoothness. Obviously not a good meal for those with certain allergies, but since we don’t fall into that camp we were happy to gorge ourselves on it.

Courgette and Lentil Dhal

How much health can you get in a single bowl? Quite a lot, actually, when you’re using the Thrive on Five cook book. We’ve raved about this book before but the long and short of it is that it contains recipes which will give you your five portions of veg for the day in a single meal. There are a lot of nice recipes in the book (although some of them can get a bit samey – I’m looking at you, mushrooms) and we found this one we hadn’t tried before.

There’s a lot of spices and interesting flavours going on in this meal, but it upset me by requiring the use of the food processor to blitz carrot and celery (I hate anything which creates washing up!). The end result was very tasty but Mark enjoyed it more than me. Some brown rice and chapatis rounded out what turned out to be a very filling and tasty meal.

Followed by a slice of the healthy cake we made at the weekend, it’s 6 portions of fruit and veg in one sitting!

Eastern Spiced Meatballs with Fiery Tomato Soupy Sauce

Quite a long title for this recipe! This is the first recipe we’re trying from John Whaite’s new book, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. The premise is simple – every recipe has just five ingredients. The only extras on top of that are salt, pepper, oil and butter.

I must confess, I wasn’t sure how this would work out. Five ingredients doesn’t seem like much, but then again we know Nigel Slater can produce amazing flavours from very little. So this recipe was our first test and I must say it was very well received. The other real joy about this recipe is just how easy it was.

To begin, vine tomatoes are quartered and sprinkled with a little salt. They are then roasted in a hot oven for about 15 minutes with a few red chillies. Meanwhile you make the meatballs from minced beef (which must have a reasonably high fat content), olive oil, cinnamon and allspice. These then roast in the oven as well for another 10 – 15 minutes.

Once that’s all cooked, you remove the stalks from the chillies and blitz them with the tomatoes and a little butter. Sauce done. That’s really all there is to it, and believe me this sauce is HOT! You don’t get a huge amount of sauce, but it really packs a punch and is very tasty.

Serve up the sauce with the meatballs – and we added a bit of pasta just for some extra carbohydrates. Our picture of the meal doesn’t really do it justice – it may not look pretty, but this is a super tasty meal and it looks like things bode well for this book…

Chicken with Spices and Cream

This Nigel Slater recipe uses an ingredient we’re not used to seeing in his recipe books – or anyone else’s for that matter: curry powder. Nothing fancy, just plain ordinary curry powder.

It’s a speedy recipe too, coming from Real Fast Food Rub salt and pepper into the chicken and then fry it. Next add the chopped onion and garlic, followed a few minutes later by the curry powder and some ground cinnamon. Moisture comes from chicken stock and some chopped tomatoes, and the whole thing simmers for about 15 minutes. Before serving, a generous slosh of double cream and a squeeze of lemon juice finish the whole thing off.

When I made this it felt like a bit of a lazy option and harked back to some of the cooking I did in my student days, but as soon as Mark stepped through the front door he was intrigued because he said the house smelt amazing. The end result wasn’t like a typical curry, but the spices combined with the savoury stock make for a really tasty treat.

Apple and Walnut Cake

Rounding out the week with a bit of baking from that old reliable, How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.

It’s a bit of an unusual recipe, using walnut oil for the fat (although you can use olive oil) and then the resulting cake batter is very thick – and that’s before you add the diced apple, chopped walnuts and rum soaked sultanas. It takes quite a long time in the oven too – a whole hour.

The final cake is very nice, but I’m a bit concerned it could dry out as the week progresses. Fortunately we have ice cream in the freezer as an emergency “moist maker”.