Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.


Suet-free Mincemeat

A lot of people have issues with suet for some reason, so I decided to make up batches of mincemeat that are suet-free. There are more apples here then in most recipes for mincemeat, but they provide a tenderness and moistness that offsets the absence of fat in the ingredients. You’ll find different mincemeat recipes in every Christmas publication worth it’s salt, but this version is ridiculously easy, and comes from Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a  Domestic Goddess”.

In a large saucepan, dissolve 250g soft, dark sugar in 250ml medium-dry cider over a gentle heat. Roughly chop 1kg of (peeled, halved and quartered) apples, and add them to the saucepan. Then add a half teaspoon of mixed spice, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, 250g currants, 250g raisins, 75g roughly chopped glace cherries, 75g finely chopped blanched almonds, and the rind and juice of half a lemon, and simmer for 30 minutes or until everything looks pulpy. Take off the heat and when it has cooled a little, stir in 90ml (6 tablespoons) of brandy or rum.

Spoon into sterilized jars – this should make about 2kg.


Banana and Cinnamon Cake

A rare treat, a guest contribution. The recipe and these photos were sent in by man of the people and friend of the stars Conor Sreenan. The recipe can be found on Nigella Lawson’s website here, and Conor tells me that he whipped it up in about 20 minutes. Knowing Conor’s exemplary character as well as I do, I don’t doubt him for a second. He also advised me that he substituted the plain flour for stone-ground wholewheat – sounds delish to me, I’m looking forward to Afternoon Tea in Conor’s house soon!

(clicky on images to embiggen…)


Tuscan Plum Tart

Wow. I came across this recipe by chance – I had some plums left over and wanted to make something using ingredients I had in the house. This is one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever made, and tastes absolutely scrumptious when it’s nice and warm out of the oven. This has the definite potential to be my new fallback, quick emergency cake. I came across the recipe in one of my bibles – Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course.

Preheat the oven to 170degC.

Put 275g sugar and 150ml water into a 25cm/10in cast-iron frying pan (or any pan that size that you can use on the hob and in the oven i.e. no plastic!). Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelises to a rich golden brown (it’s very important that once the sugar dissolves you leave the syrup alone – don’t be tempted to stir it! It will take time but the syrup will continue to bubble away and then start to turn golden-brown).

Meanwhile halve and stone 900g of plums. Arrange them cut side down in a single layer over the caramel (I only had four plums left so I quartered them and arranged them as per the photo).

Put 150g soft butter, 175g caster sugar and 200g self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds, add 3 eggs then mix again. Stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon over the plums, spreading gently in as even a layer as possible.

Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour (mine only took 45-50 minutes). The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan. Allow to rest in the pan for 4-5 minutes before turning out (put a plate on top of the pan and flip it over – be careful of any juices that might escape!).

Serve with creme fraiche or gently whipped cream.

Blueberry and Lemon Millefeuille

Using shop-bought puff-pastry for this recipe makes it a reasonably hassle-free but exceptionally elegant dessert. Being a baking masochist I spent the morning making my own puff pastry, though. The recipe here is as it appears in Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy book, and she recommends shop-bought puff pastry. As an aside, I can’t recommend that book enough. You can pick it up in some of the bargain bookshops like Book Value for less then a tenner now – everything I’ve made from it has worked out perfectly.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Dust the work surface with lots of icing sugar and roll out 250g puff pastry to a rectangle just larger that 27x30cm, trimming the edges straight. It should be as thin as you can get it. Cut out 18 rectangles 9cm long by 5cm wide and place them on the prepared baking tray. Sprinkle with lots of icing sugar and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Remove the tray from the fridge and bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle the pastry with more icing sugar. Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the pastry turns a golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the cream, put 165ml whipping cream, 25g icing sugar, and a few drops of vanilla extract into a large bowl and whip until medium soft peaks form. Fold in the freshly grated zest of one lemon, the scoop the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle (I poured it into a freezer bag and cut off the bottom corner, that technique for piping is fine if you have soft mixture like cream to pipe – something stiff like buttercream will split the bag).

Place one pastry thin on a serving plate. Pipe blobs of cream over the pastry, alternating the blobs with a fresh blueberry. Put another pastry thin on top and repeat. Add the top pastry, sprinkle with icing sugar, and repeat to make six millefeuille.

In her recipe, Lorraine Pascale includes a chocolate sauce to pour over them. I didn’t make the sauce, but the recipe is as follows: Heat 165ml double cream in a pan until just boiling. Remove the pan from the heat, add 100g finely chopped dark chocolate and 25g butter. Don’t stir the ingredients, just leave to stand for 5 minutes, then stir until everything is smooth. Add 1tbsp golden syrup and stir again.

WORLD CUP SPECIAL! Breakfast in Bed

5.30am is an early start tomorrow to watch the Ireland v Wales Quarter Final – who’s hungry at that hour of the morning? I’d recommend a slice of toast and a cup of coffee to tide you over. Once the game is over start making this decadent (i.e. not healthy) French Toast breakfast, and you should have it finished in time to watch the England v France game from your bed.

These quantities serve two people, so the decision is yours – surprise your partner with breakfast in bed, or eat it really quietly while they’re still asleep and have a double portion!

Put a 500g mix of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries (I used a packet of frozen fruits) in a small saucepan with a tblsp of sugar and a tblsp of water, and heat gently. You want the fruit to be warmed without turning into mush.

Stir 2 eggs, 1 and a half tablespoons of cream, a good grating of nutmeg and a pinch of salt briskly with a fork until well blended. Pour the mixture into a shallow bowl in which you can easily dip a slice of bed.

Cut four pretty thick slices of white bread. This is easiest to do if you buy a full loaf (not a sliced pan), and cut it yourself. Cut the crusts off. You can even cut the bread the night before and leave it to dry out a bit overnight.

Melt 1 and a half tblsp of butter in a frying pan big enough to hold two slices of bread. Dip both side of two slices of bread in the egg mixture, just long enough to soak up the egg, but not too long that the bread falls apart.

Fry the bread over a medium heat until very lightly browned, turning once.

Keep the cooked slices warm in the oven while you make a second batch. Whip a bowl of cream while you’re doing this.

Place 2 slices of French Toast on a plate, and sieve icing sugar over the top. Strain half the fruit from the juices in the pan, and place the warmed fruit to one side of the French Toast. Put a good dollop of whipped cream on the other side, and serve with some freshly squeezed orange juice and a strong pot of coffee.

Pear and Blueberry Cake

Last week apples, this week pears? Not quite, but thanks to my friendly neighbour Tim who dropped in a bag of garden apples, I have enough fresh fruit to make a few more cakes this week!

This is a cinch to put together, a really quick cake that’s great if you have to make something quickly for unexpected guest. From Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, he suggests you can use any fresh fruit for the topping.

Preheat the oven to 180degC, and line a 9-inch cake tim with baking parchment.

Beat 130g butter with 130g caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat 2 eggs together, then gradually add them to the butter and sugar. Sift 130g flour and a teaspoon of baking powder together and fold this gently into the mixture. Scrape into the lined cake tin.

Peel and core 2 ripe pears, and then cut them into chunks. Spread over the top of the cake mixture with 250g washed blueberries. Scatter a couple of tablespoons of sugar over the top. Bake for 55 minutes, then test for doneness with a skewer. If it comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven, then leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out.

APPLE WEEK! – Sunday: Apple-Oatmeal Cookies

Mrs Moveable Feast decided we have had quite enough cakes this week, thank you very much, so she took it upon herself to make a batch of Apple-Oatmeal Cookies from the WeightWatchers Cookbook to finish off Apple Week.

Preheat the oven to 175degC and line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, combine 1 and a half cups of rolled oats (toasted until lightly browned), half a cup of plain flour, half a tsp of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp of baking soda, and a 1/4 tsp salt (all measurements given in US sizes, as they appear).

Cream a 1/4 cup light brown sugar with 2 and a half tbsp of softened unsalted butter. Add a large egg, 1 peeled, cored and coarsely grated apple and a half tsp of vanilla extract. Add the oats mixture; stir to blend, then stir in 1/4 cup of raisins.

Drop the dough by tablespoons onto the baking sheets, forming 12 cookies on each sheet; flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake until lightly browned, 12 -15 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.

PS if you like the Dunk Mug, you can buy them here.