Thursday, 28 November 2013

Pear & Ginger Chutney

This spicy chutney is another great preserve that can be made now and will have matured just in time to use over the festive season.

As this chutney matures, the pears mellow but still remain beautifully fruity.
It is such a useful preserve to have in the store-cupboard. It is delicious with cheese and I love to eat it with a strong cheddar, but it really comes into its own when served with a blue cheese such as the Irish Cashel Blue or Bellingham Blue, an English Stilton or a French Roquefort – with a few pickled walnuts on the side or a couple of thinly cut slices of fresh pear – HEAVEN! Pears and blue cheese go so well together and is one of my favourite food pairings.
You do not need to confine the use of this chutney to being just an accompaniment to cheese. I regularly add a couple of tablespoons to my homemade beef stew and sometimes a little does wonders to perk up gravy. I also like to smear a thin layer of it into a blind-baked pastry case before filling with some sweated onions and streaky bacon, a savoury egg custard and sprinkling with some cheese before baking in the oven.
Chutneys are great to give as gifts. I like to make a variety of chutneys, jams and pickles during the autumn and package them up in little baskets along with some homemade gingerbread and fudge as gifts to give at Christmas.
There is nothing difficult about making this chutney… the only slightly tedious bit is the chopping of all the fruit and vegetables, but you are then rewarded with the most beautiful jars of delectable chutney at the end.


1kg pears, peeled cored and cut into 2cm cubes
450g onions, peeled and finely chopped
450g tomatoes, preferably peeled and sliced
250g raisins
2 balls of preserved stem ginger cut into tiny cubes
8 peppercorns
700g demerara sugar
1tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp ground ginger
2tsp salt
750ml cider vinegar


1. Place all the fruit and vegetables in a large heavy based saucepan over a gentle heat until some of their water is released and they are just starting to simmer.  Do not cover the saucepan.  Tie the peppercorns in a small piece of muslin and pop into the saucepan with the fruit and vegetables. Add the rest of the ingredients and allow to simmer at a very low heat for 2-2½ hours. Make sure to stir the chutney regularly to avoid it catching on the bottom of the saucepan.
2. When ready the chutney should be thick and most of the liquid will have evaporated, but don’t over-reduce it as the chutney will continue thickening as it cools. Remove the little muslin pouch of peppercorns and spoon the chutney into warm sterilised jars and seal with vinegar proof lids. Store in a cool dark place for at least a month before opening. The chutney can be stored for up to6 months unopened, but once opened it should be stored in the fridge and consumed within 6 weeks.
Makes approximately 2.5kg.

Pecan Pie - A Thanksgiving Day Treat!

Thanksgiving Day is an annual American public holiday that dates back to colonial times. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November and is essentially a celebration where people give thanks for what they have.
Although the matter is disputed, many historians trace the origins of the holiday back to the harvest celebrations that early pilgrims held in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 and the subsequent celebrations two years later where they gave thanks when rain came after a lengthy drought.
As with so many holidays, there are specific foods and culinary rituals associated with the festivities. A typical Thanksgiving Day dinner consists of roast turkey with all the trimmings including stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pies are also traditionally served, but many other pies can also be included as part of the Thanksgiving feast.

I love pies. Fruit pies are delicious but I am also partial to a whole range of other pies both sweet and savoury.
Many years ago I lived and worked in America for a short time and I loved the apple pie and the chocolate chip pie that were served in the restaurant where I worked. Both were heavenly but more made even more luscious by the fact that they were always served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream which began to slowly melt with the residual heat of the pies.

Another pie I came to quite late, but which is now a firm favourite of mine, is pecan pie. This is the pie that I present here to mark Thanksgiving Day. The recipe is based on one contained in the Great British Bake Off cookbook. I have baked it many times and have tweaked it here and there. Yes… it is sweet, but to be honest, that’s kind of the point. It is so tasty and I find it almost impossible to limit myself to just one slice. All too often pies do not keep for any length of time and need to be eaten on the day that they are made. I have found that this recipe bucks that trend and is every bit as good a couple of days later.


200g plain flour
1tblsp icing sugar
120g butter, chilled and diced
1 large egg yolk
1-2tblsp water
100g unsalted butter, diced
125g muscovado sugar
85g maple syrup
85g golden syrup
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp vanilla paste
200g pecans


Make pastry:
1. Sift the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and sprinkle in the water and using a fork mix until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
2. Tip out on a lightly floured work-surface and knead briefly and shape into a ball. Wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge for about half an hour to rest.
Blind-bake pastry:
3. Preheat oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Grease a 5cm deep, 23cm round, fluted pie dish with a removable base, with a little butter. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry dough until large enough to fit into your pie dish to cover the base and the sides. Cover the pastry with a sheet of crumpled baking parchment and then fill with baking beans. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove the baking beans and parchment paper and cook for a further five minutes.
4. Remove the blind-baked pastry from the oven and set aside to partially cool while you make the pie filling.
5. Turn oven down to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
Make the filling:
6. Put the butter, sugar, maple syrup, golden syrup in a medium sized saucepan and melt gently over a low heat giving it an occasional stir. Once melted increase the heat and bring to the boil. Allow bubble for one minute and then remove from the heat and put to the side for ten minutes to cool down a little.
7. When cooled down add the eggs and vanilla paste and mix together well. Reserve a few nuts for decoration, but roughly chop the rest. Add the chopped nuts to the sugar and syrup mixture in the saucepan. Mix well and pour into the blind-baked pastry case. Place the whole pecans in concentric circles on top of the pie and then place in the oven to bake for approximately 30-35 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and allow cool.
Serves 8-10.


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties can smell so inviting and moreishly savoury. The problem is that frequently, many of the versions that are available to buy are flavourless and bland and never quite live up to expectations.
You see, there is something that I find so appealing about the idea of the Cornish Pasty and I so want them to be the taste sensation that I imagine they could be… but regrettably, they often disappoint and fail to realise their own potential. Like a woman on a mission, I was determined that I would produce a recipe for a pasty to be proud of!
For something that appears to be quite humble with few ingredients, there were a lot of decisions to make and many possible variations on the theme. Consideration had to be given to the type of pastry; whether to add carrots or not; the vegetables that should be included, which cut of beef should be used and should the meat be minced or not… the list seemed daunting at first, because any of these decisions could potentially have a significant impact on the result I was trying to achieve.
The choice of which pastry to use when making pasties is very much one of personal preference. Purists insist that they should be made with shortcrust pastry only, but you regularly find them made with puff or flaky pastry.
After much experimentation, I opted for a hot water crust pastry as I found that it crisped up the most and did not get soggy even though the vegetables and meat released liquid during the cooking process. It was robust enough to withstand some manhandling, yet remained flaky in texture.
I found that puff pastry provided a pastry that was too flaky to successfully encase the filling and it began to disintegrate on handling after the pasties were cooked. Shortcrust pastry worked well but was not as crisp as the hot water crust pastry.
Taking my lead from traditional recipes, the only vegetables I used were potatoes, swede and onions. I diced these to a similar size - 1cm square dice - so that they would all cook at the same rate. I didn’t want to use large chunks of meat, nor did I want to use minced beef… so instead I decided to hand chop the meat myself. Using a sharp knife I chopped the meat into similar sized dice as the vegetables. The end result was just what I was looking for. The meat still had some texture but was not chewy and was easy to eat. Further flavour was added with the addition of some freshly chopped thyme and a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce. I found that the thyme really added something and really brought out the savoury taste of the finished pasties. Make sure to season the meat mixture well with lots of freshly ground pepper and a generous pinch of salt.
Cornish Pasties are extremely adaptable and can be eaten hot or cold. They make ideal food for a picnic or packed lunch, but can also be served as a main course with vegetables.


300g round steak
300g potato (I used Roosters)
150g swede
1tblsp of water
A few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon of finely chopped thyme
Salt & freshly ground pepper to season
1 egg, beaten
Hot Crust Pastry:
400g plain flour
½ tsp salt
125g chilled butter
150ml water


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6. Line a large baking tray with some non-stick baking parchment.
2. Peel the onions and chop finely with a sharp knife.
3. Peel the potatoes and swede and chop into small dice, about 1cm square.
4. Trim any large piece of fat or sinew from the beef and chop finely into small dice, no more than 1cm square.
5. Place the diced meat and vegetables into a large bowl and season generously. Add the parsley, water and Worcestershire Sauce and mix with your hands to combine. Set aside while you make the pastry.
6. Sift the flour and salt together. Put the butter and water into a medium sized saucepan, place on a high heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and immediately add the flour and using a wooden spoon stir until it forms a ball.
7. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until smooth, but do not overwork. You need to roll and shape the pastry while it is still hot/war because it becomes increasingly difficult to manipulate as it cools.
8. Roll out the dough and cut into four or five 20cm circles.
9. Place mounds of the meat and vegetable mixture in the centre of each pastry circle, dividing it equally. Leave a good edge clear around the edge of the circle. For each individual pasty, brush the edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg. Bring up both side of the pastry to meet in the middle, pinching and crimping the edges to contain and seal in the filling.
10. Place the Pasties on the lined baking tray and brush the tops of each with a little more egg wash. Bake for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/`Gas Mark 4 and continue baking for a further 30 minutes until golden brown and the filling is cooked through. These can be served hot or cold.

Makes 4-5.


Mincemeat Chelsea Buns

Chelsea Buns are gloriously sticky and sweet.

The buns are traditionally made with an enriched yeasted dough and filled with a mixture of butter, sugar, dried fruit and spices. The filled dough is rolled into a spiral and individual buns are created by cutting cross sections of the dough.
The buns are placed in a roasting pan and are baked together with their sides touching, so that they merge together during baking and have to be torn apart to serve.
Whilst still hot, the buns are usually glazed with a cold eater and sugar solution, which produces a lovely sticky finish to the buns when cool.
Over the years, I have tried out quite a few different recipes for Chelsea Buns and the dough recipe given here is my favourite. The dough is not sweet, but the overall effect created is one of sweetness due to the filling and topping used.
I recently made some jars of mincemeat in preparation for Christmas and decided that I would use some of my stash in these buns. I was delighted with the results and think that these would be a lovely treat over the festive season. I also deviated from the traditional recipe by using a simple glacé icing as a glaze to the finished buns.
As with many of the recipes I gravitate towards, this one is quite straightforward and I urge you to try it.


500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 x 7g sachet of fast-acting yeast
300ml milk
50g butter
1 large free-range egg
450g mincemeat
100g icing sugar
1 teaspoon water


1. Place the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Make a well in the centre of the flour and sprinkle in the yeast.
2. Warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter is melted and the mixture is lukewarm. Pour into the flour mixture, add the egg and mix together thoroughly until the contents of the bowl come together into a soft dough.
3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead well for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
4. Place the dough into an oiled bowl and leave to rise, covered with cling film or a clean damp tea-towel, for about hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
5. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out dough into a rectangle about 30x20cm. Spread the mincemeat over the dough to within about an inch of the edges.
6. Roll along the long side of the dough to create a tight spiral. Using a sharp knife cut into 10 even slices.
7. Grease a deep roasting tin or baking tray thoroughly with butter.
8. Place the buns, cut side up, into the greased baking tray leaving about 1cm space between each one. You want them to be close enough so that when they rise further and then bake, they will bake with their sides touching. Leave to rise for about 30 minutes in a warm place.
9. Preheat oven to 190C/fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5.
10. When the buns are ready, put them in the pre-heated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden-brown. Remove the buns from the oven and let them cool slightly before transferring them to a cooling rack.
11. Mix the icing sugar and water together in a small bowl to create a smooth but slightly runny icing. Drizzle the icing over the cooled buns and allow to set before serving.
Makes 10 buns.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Apple, Pear & Blackberry Crumble

This is such as simple recipe… I really cannot stress how easy it is. It is also incredibly versatile – you can use whatever fruits you have to hand.

Apple crumble is incredibly popular in our house especially if served with a large spoonful of lightly whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice-cream or a generous puddle of custard. Another favourite fruit to use is Rhubarb… so delicious. I sometimes throw in a few strawberries to keep the rhubarb company, if I have some.

Basically you just pile all the fruit into an oven proof dish, and depending on the tartness of the chosen fruit – sprinkle on some sugar to taste, top with the crumble mixture and pop into the oven for just over half an hour.

It is that simple.

The crumble is a doddle to make. You roughly rub the butter into the flour and add some caster sugar before mixing together.

As you will be aware, I am on a bit of a pear fest at the moment, so I used apples, pears and some blackberries. I love the way the blackberries give a rosy colour to the other fruits as they cook.

Be confidant and do try out different fruit combinations using whatever is in season. You can’t beat a good crumble.


4 large cooking apples, peeled cored and sliced
2 large pears, peeled, cored and sliced
Handful of blackberries
50g caster sugar
175g plain flour
115g butter
100g caster sugar


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 5. Mix the prepared fruit together into an oven-proof dish and set aside.
Make the crumble:
2. Place the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter. You do not need to be too fastidious about this as it is actually better if some small lumps of butter still remain. Add the sugar and mix all the crumble ingredients together.
3. Spread the crumble out evenly on top of the fruit. Place on a baking tray and put into the pre-heated oven for approximately 35 minutes until the crumble is a golden colour and the fruit juices are bubbling around the edges. Allow to cool slightly and serve whilst still warm with cream, ice-cream or hot custard.
Serves 6.

Christmas Gingerbread

The baking of Christmas biscuits or cookies has long been a tradition in many countries.
Many of the recipes that are commonplace today can trace their roots back to Medieval Europe. Christmas cookies that are highly spiced mainly originate from Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe where as the more shortbread-like recipes hail from England. German lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread is particularly associated with Christmas, but other variations include the lemon and cardamom flavoured krumkake from Norway and papparkakor from Sweden which use ginger and black pepper.
I think that I have established without a doubt my particular fondness for all things ginger flavoured. I think it is the most amazing spice, imparting as it does a spicy heat that just makes your month tingle. It therefore comes as no surprise that I love Christmas gingerbread.
In many ways, the title “gingerbread” is somewhat of a misnomer as there is nothing bread like about these biscuits. Rather, they are quite hard and crunchy but are not unyielding in the mouth. Gingerbread is usually highly decorated, either with chocolate and little sweets, or as I have done here - with piped royal icing. The gingerbread dough can also be simply decorated by impressing it with designs using carved wooden moulds. Some moulds are highly intricate and produce the most beautiful looking biscuits.
The baking and construction of decorative gingerbread houses to display at Christmas time has experienced a revival in recent years. Some food historians believe that the first gingerbread houses may have appeared as a result of the popular Grimm's fairy tales, specifically as a result of the publication of Hansel and Gretel, a fairy tale about two children left to starve in a forest. In the story the children chance upon a house made of bread and sugar decorations. The ravenous children feast upon the sugary shingles. Certainly around the time that Hansel and Gretel appeared the baking of gingerbread houses was hugely popular in Germany, so there would appear to be some truth in the belief that they were inspired by the story.
I have decided that I am going to attempt baking a house this year, but for now, here is the recipe for simple biscuits. If you remember to pierce a little hole in the biscuits prior to baking, you can then thread some ribbon through them later and use them as edible decorations.  This is a great recipe; - it so simple to make and puts up with quite a lot of handling without deteriorating.


125g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
85g golden syrup
300g plain flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground ginger
50g icing sugar
1tsp water


1. Heat oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mar 6. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking parchment.
2. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a small saucepan. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large bowl and then stir in the melted butter mixture to make a stiff dough.
3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment until about ½ cm thick. Use cookie cutters to stamp out your desired shapes. Remember to try and place similar sized shapes together on the same baking sheet because depending on the size of the cookie, they may take slight less or more time to cook. If you want to use them as decorations, remember to pierce a small hole in the top of each cookie at this stage.
4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 10 minutes until just beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven when baked and leave to cool on the baking trays until they harden up. Remove to wire cooling racks to finish cooling completely.
To decorate:
5. Place icing sugar and 1tsp water in a bowl and mix together to form a thick but smooth icing. Place the mixture into a small disposable piping bag fitted with a fine, plain nozzle and pipe out decorative patterns on the biscuits. Allow the icing to set.
Makes 18-24 biscuits, depending on chosen size of cookie cutter.