Archive for December, 2011

Oh Bing... How I love you.

I know I always talk about how much I love everything I post (aubergines, my friends, butternut squash, soup, rice etc.) but Christmas takes on a whole category of it’s own, I mean I REALLY love Christmas. This might have something to do with my birthday being on boxing day, which means I have to make the most of the festive season as that is all I get for a whole year, or it might just be that Christmas is awesome because it’s about God coming to earth as an actual human being…Now I’m normally a fan of everything Christmassy, even the terrible tat holds a place in my heart, but along came the first of December and I was feeling decidedly un-christmassy, one might even say I was feeling quite scroogey and grumpy towards the whole consumer driven machine that Christmas has become, but cynicism doesn’t suit me so I decided to resolve this quick sharp and get my festive on. These pasty shaped pies came about in a kitchen in Germany, where there were no little pie dishes to be had for love nor money (or none that I was willing to pay out) and so these are mince pies for the equipmentally challenged. All you need is a glass or mug to cut the cirlces, about the diameter of a pint glass. This experimentation in shape has turned out to be more than a one-time emergency plan, I personally think the ratio of pastry to mincemeat is just right, and they are much better for entertaining than the traditional shape as there is none of that lid-falling-off malarkey, just little parcels ideal for eating with fingers. Despite my liberalness with the shape do be warned, I have strong opinions on mince pies . Never try to give me a shop-bought mince pie with it’s sickly, soggy pastry. Only the simplest, unsweetened home-made shortcrust pastry will do, anything else and I’ll pass, thanks.

...and some water

All you need to make pastry

Here is your guide to making yourself feel (more) Christmassy. 1. Go to the shops with this list Lard, Butter, Plain Flour, 1x410g jar Mincemeat, Gluehwein/Mulled Wine/Spiced Apple Juice 2. Get back and shut yourself in the kitchen with your laptop. Get the Christmas tunes on,  my preferences are: Sufjan Steven’s “Songs for Christmas”, anything by Bing Crosby (wonderfully these are both on Spotify) and this playlist compiled by my friend Sophie last year, but if you prefer your Christmas cheer in a cheesier variety then put some of that on. 3. Get a small pan on and heat your spiced drink of choice until it is steaming. Pour into a Christmas themed mug. 4. Start making your mince pies, you will need:

  • 1 small jar Mincemeat (400g)
  • 75g Lard
  • 75g Butter
  • 300g Plain flour
  • your cutting glass (about 6-8cm diameter)
  • Splash of cold water
  • A pinch of salt if the butter is unsalted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Baking tray and baking paper
  • A fork
  • Icing sugar for dusting, or white caster sugar sprinkled is just as good

Cut the lard and butter in to 1cm cubes and put into a bowl with the flour and salt. Rub in the fat and flour using your finger tips, until the mixture takes on a bread-crumb like consistency- this can take a while, especially if the fat is cold, but keep going! Bring the mixture together with just enough cold water to form a soft dough. Put the lump of dough in a sandwich bag and chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile… 5. Put the oven on to 200C. Ensure your drink is topped up and then start browsing for those Christmas gifts on-line (so much nicer than the crowds on the high street). 6. After the 30 minutes chilling time, continue to assemble the mince pies. Roll out your pastry dough on a floured surface until it is about 0.5cm thick. Use your implement of choice to cut as many circles as possible, and then fill with just under a teaspoon of mincemeat. Brush beaten egg all the way round and then fold the circles in half, pressing down at the edges with a fork. Prick the tops to let out steam and then line up on a baking tray lined with paper. Once all the pastry and mincemeat is used, brush the mince pies with the remaining egg wash and put into the hot oven for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool before sprinkling with icing sugar or caster sugar.

un-dusted mince pies fresh from the oven

6. Sit down with the remainder of your spiced drink, or just a cup of tea and some mince pies to watch your favourite Christmas film. Might I suggest “White Christmas”? For another Christmassy weekend suggestion see Sophie’s 2011 Christmas blog post on “style and then some” here, which includes how to make cranberry sauce!


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Spicy Aubergines

Last weekend I invited some friends over, only there were a lot of last minute emergencies and it ended up shrinking from a party of eight guests to three. Fortunately it meant I got to eat (incredibly garlicky)leftovers for lunch, which may be slightly antisocial but I always find leftovers much more satisfying than a sandwich don’t you?

Aubergines, I love you.

I love aubergines. Along with buttternut squash they are very high on my list of favourite vegetables, and this, or variations on this, is my favourite way to eat them. The best thing about this dish for me, is the meaty and smooth texture of the aubergines against the sharp tangy spicy sauce. Not only does it taste amazing but it is super quick and versatile. When I cooked this at the weekend it was for more of a middle eastern Mediterranean meal, so I left out the seeds (apart from the coriander) and the ginger, added a teaspoon of ras al-hanout and served it with koftas, (recipe to come), a yoghurt sauce, salad and flat bread. I cannot sing this recipe’s praises enough , it is my food heaven, and such a reliable staple.

A lot of recipes tell you to fry aubergines, but this makes them absorb a huge (read:disgusting) amount of oil, and I’ve found roasting them gives them just the right colour and flavour. Just a quick disclaimer, I haven’t suddenly got amazing at food photography, my sister was one of the three people who got to eat the dinner, and she took some snaps for me. Thanks sis!

Spicy Aubergines

serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side dish

  • 1 large or 2 medium aubergines
  • 1 carton of pasata
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • olive oil for brushing
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped/minced
  • 1cm grated ginger
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp kalonji/nigella seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • cayenne pepper to taste (I go for 2 tsp, but I do like it hot!)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 200C and then cut the aubergines into even sized wedges, I do this by cutting thick slices and then quartering/sixthing them. Put into a baking tray and brush or spray with olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes,  giving them a shuggle (somewhere between a shuffle and a jiggle) after 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or heavy based frying pan and fry the seeds until they begin to pop. You might need to take off the heat to cool a little before adding the garlic and ginger as it might spit at you otherwise. Fry them until brown and then add the pasata and all your other ingredients, bring to the simmer. Once the aubergines are cooked stir them into the sauce, adding water if it is a bit thick and cook simmer with a lid for 5 minutes. Check for seasoning, I tend to make it quite salty, especially if it is a side dish and you didn’t season the aubergines before roasting.


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