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!

Double Apple Pie

With autumn here, it seems an appropriate time to make an apple pie so we dug out our copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess and got cracking. The recipe is a bit unusual, in that it includes a special recipe for pastry which includes cheese! I can understand the logic here – cheese can go well with apple, but I can’t say I fancied the idea for this pie, and Mark isn’t a big fan of cheese either, so instead we went with the tried and tested sweet shortcrust recipe which I got from John Whaite’s Kitchen.

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There are two types of apple used here – Bramley and Coxes. The Bramley apples are diced and fried in butter until they start to turn to mush. This is then blitzed in a food processor along with some spices, egg and sugar.

The coxes are cooked in a similar way – fried in butter – but are kept in larger chunks. The pastry is then used to line a springform cake tin and the Bramley mush is added first, followed by the Cox chunks which get “pushed” into it. The whole thing is topped with pastry and then put in the oven.

The recipe makes a really big, really satisfying pie – and regular sweet shortcrust pastry works really well. If I were to make it again though, I’d swap the spices – Nigella calls for ground cloves and grated nutmeg; I’d probably go with a more traditional cinnamon next time.

Haddock in Anchovy & Tarragon Breadcrumbs

It’s not all that long since we had our posh fish finger sandwich from Booths, and this is a variation on that theme. Some nice pieces of haddock in breadcrumbs, but Nigel Slater’s Appetite provides the twist.

The breadcrumbs are made from panko (Nigel uses fresh bread, but we had panko in the cupboard) and is given some extra flavour in the form of tarragon and anchovies. Dip the fish in flour first, then beaten egg, and finally the breadcrumb mixture before frying in a pan.

The anchovy is the star here – it adds a really nice salty tang to the breadcrumbs and makes this much more interesting than everyday breaded fish. My one criticism would be that the anchovy is so flavoursome, the tarragon ends up being somewhat lost.

Mushy peas on the side because, why not?

Roast vegetable tortilla recipe with a green olive twist

Our third meal from the Sainsbury’s Homemade by You website is this vegetable tortilla (or maybe frittata?). It’s another vegetable loaded meal with plenty of health, plus low fat protein in the form of many many eggs.

It’s really easy too – we’re basically cooking the vegetables and then pouring an eggy mixture over it. Then it cooks in the pan, before being finished off under the grill.

Lots of food. Lots of taste. The twist on this occasion is green olives which were nice but did seem a little out of place… we love olives enough not to complain though.

Lemon and Thyme Bundt Cake

We keep going back to bundt cakes ever sine we got a tin and this week is no exception. Fortunately Simply Nigella contains quite a number of these, and we seem to be working our way through them with this lemon and thyme bundt cake. If you want to find a copy of this recipe online, you can find it at Chatelaine.

The cake is pretty easy to make – basically bung it all together and stick it in the tin (or at least that’s my recollection!). It rises enormously though – this was by far our biggest bundt do far! We topped it off with some lemon icing (badly) and sugar stars. It looked pretty enough and the slices were huge!

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It was a hugely substantial and hugely satisfying cake, but the flavour wasn’t quite as strong as we were expecting. This is possibly because I didn’t put enough thyme it, and possibly also because I forgot to add the juice of one of the lemons (I just added the zest). The result was more like a Madeira cake with a hint of lemon – but that’s certainly no bad thing and we demolished the lot!

Arnold Bennett Frittata

This recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals“, a book which we’ve had a long time but don’t often use. Although the book’s title is accurate, and you can crank these recipes out very quickly, they also tend to generate a lot of washing up. They’re also usually aimed at four people, and the quantities involved don’t always halve nicely. This recipe jumped out, however, as one which looked fairly “washing-up-lite” and easy to do for two people.

Method wise, there’s hardly anything to it. Poach the fish with some bay leaves and pop the focaccia in the oven to warm/toast. Beat the eggs and add some peas and chopped spring onions along with some seasoning.

The fish should be cooked by now so remove it from the water and break it up a bit using a fork (and removing the skin if there is any). Pour the egg mixture into a pan and after a minute or so until it starts to set, then add the fish. Sprinkle with parmesan and put under the grill to finish.

That just leaves the salad, which is basically some grated apple (sprinkled with lemon juice to stop it going brown) and watercress. Some chopped chives and walnuts with a glug of olive oil finish it off. Jamie also adds emmental, but Mark isn’t a fan of cold cheese so we skipped that bit.

Surprisingly quick and easy, and looks really impressive because there are so many parts to it. Full marks to Mr Oliver. The only problem we had is that this really is a meal for four, so with half the ingredients our frittata looked a bit thing (should have used a smaller pan really).

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Making a bundt cake recently reminded me of what a wonderful book Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen is, so I went rummaging through it for recipes which I’d still not tried and found this one. I was attracted to it because the picture in the book shows the meal simmering in a yellow casserole dish very similar to the one we own!

The recipe is in two parts – making the sauce is pretty simple because you just blitz some veg in a food processor and then gently fry it for a bit before adding a tin of plum tomatoes and some water and letting it simmer.The rest of the ingredients go to making the turkey meatballs which require very little effort. I’d forgotten how easy Nigella’s recipes can be!

You then gently place the meatballs into the liquid (they pretty much float on top) and let them cook whilst the sauce simmers. Mine took a bit longer than expected because I had halved quantities, but had to use the full amount of water to ensure there was enough liquid for the meatballs to float in. It reduced down to a really tasty tomato sauce, although the meatballs weren’t the most exciting things I’ve eaten. Some pasta on the side and this made for an easy and tasty supper – and relatively low fat with the turkey mince, too.

Roast Chicken in Turmeric, Paprika & Cumin with Corn Cakes and Mashed Avocados

The list of ingredients here is pretty long but a lot of it is storecupboard stuff – and if you’ve cooked any number of Nigella Lawson recipes you’ll probably have most of the rarer items anyway (I’m looking at you, polenta). The recipe itself is from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand.

The recipe is actually three dishes. It looks like it takes a lot of time and preparation but actually it’s really simple. First you make the batter for the corn cakes, which basically means put the ingredients in a food processor and blitz them together.

Next you make a spice mix for the chicken, rub it all over and bang it in the oven for 45 minutes.

When the chicken is nearly ready, mash the avocado with a fork and add sherry vinegar and lime juice. Then fry your pre-prepared batter in a pan to make your corn cakes and serve the whole thing up.

I think I under-did the seasoning in the corn cakes and chicken, and overdid it with the sherry vinegar in the avocados. But the overall result was highly impressive. Presenting three home made items on a plate for dinner makes you look like some kind of domestic wizard!

Beef with Vegetables & Noodles

Another recipe from Our Korean Kitchen here, and another success story! I was quite apprehensive of this because there’s a significant amount of preparation required – from making an egg dish, boiling noodles, grating vegetables, marinating beef…

…but the whole thing comes together wonderfully! Lots of different flavours and textures which all work really well together. We were supposed to use sweet potato glass noodles but couldn’t track any down and just went with udon noodles instead because we had some in the cupboard. Accident or not, they worked really well!

Oyaki Donburi

We’ve made chicken and egg donburi before, using a recipe from the Yo Sushi cookbook but this version comes from Kimiko Barber’s Cook Japanese at Home. OK, so technically she wrote them both but we’re counting this as a different meal…

Technique is pretty similar though! Cook some rice, then get on with the meal. Dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin and sugar get mixed together and brought to the boil, then chicken is added and cooked, followed by spring onions and finally some beaten egg gets whirled through.

The final meal isn’t the prettiest thing to look at, and we both found this to be a little lacking in flavour. However, I’m wondering if the instant dashi which I’m using is past its best and this may be the cause? Either way, it made for an interesting change from what we’ve been eating recently. Also, it’s pretty low fat but high in protein!