Ding-Dong Merrily Mince Pie

There’s snow on the ground, and the mountains are dazzling in the bright sunshine, with a deep blue sky behind them. Yesterday was St Nicholas’ day, my little wooden nativity and angels inherited from Mom are up, and the Advent candles are all ready. What’s missing? Seasonal fare.

IMG_1960The supermarkets are full of Germanic Weihnachtsgebäck and Stollen, and my granddaughters are baking their own, but I’m on a high fat/low carb/low sugar diet. Supposed to be. I have resisted making or buying any gingerbread, cakes or biscuits and am feeling fairly virtuous.

However, nostalgia urges me to produce something British for Christmas. I didn’t feel up to making a rich Christmas fruit cake this year, and as I’m the only member of the family who enjoys Christmas pudding there seems little point in running around trying to get suet outside of the UK. The absence of suet here also led me to think that I wouldn’t be getting any mince pies, either, although the family do share my love of those calorie bombs and if I could make some, they would happily eat them. But like suet, ready-made mincemeat is not generally available here.

Then – Mary Berry to the rescue! She has an online recipe for mincemeat made with butter, and indeed, goes so far as to say that she (the queen of baking) actually prefers the taste of butter, and then adds: “I no longer use cellophane tops or wax paper. I simply use clean sterilised screw-top jars saved from bought marmalade or jam.”

For some reason, although we can get dried cranberries and several kinds of raisins and sultanas, here in Switzerland currants are not so current and we have to go to the health food store for those. I couldn’t find muscovado sugar, either – but does it really make such a difference? I spent a small fortune on all the other ingredients, and a very happy half hour mixing it up and making it nice, then pop went the weasel into the jam jars that had fortuitously avoided being recycled.

I’ve made mincemeat before, many years ago, to an old recipe that I believe is at least 100 years old dating from the days when you had to stone the raisins and chop the suet yourself. It also has orange marmalade in it. As I recall, it involved putting the jars of mincemeat in a slow oven to ensure it wouldn’t go mouldy. Mary Berry’s version is made in a large saucepan and simmered for 10 minutes, which she maintains is adequate to prevent any deterioration. I’m not quite sure about that, so mine is being kept in the fridge.

My idea was to make a few mince pies for a potluck Christmas party coming up, and some more for our family Christmas Day, and maybe give a jar or two away as presents. However, the quantities in Mary’s recipe only stretched to three jars, and of course I have to sample my product before thrusting it upon the world at large.

mince pies

NOTE that I deliberately abstained from adding a dusting of castor sugar!

Personally, I prefer shortcrust pastry for my mince pies because puff pastry leaves little room for the filling, as it tends to ooze out as the pastry puffs up: I can squeeze more into a shortcrust pastry case. Unfortunately, while I could always produce melt-in-the-mouth pastry in England, here in Switzerland the flour is less refined (or something) and the pastry turns out heavier. So I cheated and bought some readymade puff pastry from the supermarket, and made a dozen pies. They looked good, but I had to make sure they also tasted right. Yes, though they could have done with a more generous filling. I had to eat nine of them to be sure my mincemeat was OK. So much for my low carb/low sugar diet.

Tomorrow, I’ll make another batch of mincemeat so I can give some away.
Thank you, Mary Berry! (How do you stay so slim?)

 

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A Trip To The Village

Very seldom nowadays do I actually sit down and write a letter or card. Even birthday greetings are despatched digitally in most cases. However, yesterday I wrote to an old friend who disdains e-mails. I addressed the envelope and affixed two stamps, to make sure the postage was sufficient, placed my letter inside the envelope and sealed it. I then placed it on the shoe cupboard by my front door together with my mittens to make sure I wouldn’t forget it.

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Today, I put the letter in my coat pocket and set off for the post office. On the way, as I was negotiating some steps, I was hampered by my hair falling in my eyes when I looked down, so I decided to pop into my hairdresser’s and get her to cut me a porthole in my fringe. This “pop” developed into a brief social visit, and as I left her salon and was passing the grocery store next door, it occurred to me that I needed to replace the milk that had turned out to be sour at breakfast this morning.

So into the little supermarket I went, remembering in my tour of the shelves that I also needed butter, eggs, mayonnaise and some fruit. I had to hunt for the mayonnaise, which drove the butter out of my mind, but I did get milk, eggs, mayonnaise, apples and pears so four out of five – that wasn’t too bad.

Next door to the grocer’s is the butcher’s.  Aha, my grandson-in-law is celebrating his birthday next week, and I know he likes this butcher’s homemade smoked venison sausage called Salsa. Salsiz is a kind of Swiss salami-type sausage, a speciality of the region where I live (Graubünden), and is listed in the database Culinary Heritage of Switzerland. 

salsiz

Photo from Wikipedia

Switzerland may be small, but my grandson-in-law lives in the canton of Thurgau more than 100 km away, separated from me by mountains and lakes, in a canton where they don’t make Salsiz. Six delicious Hirschsalsiz, please – and I can tick his birthday present off my list. A lovely local red wine – maybe a Bündner Herrschaften – will go well with that. Perhaps one of our local mountain cheeses, too? GIL will be very happy, and there should be enough Salsiz to share one with his children.

My little shopping bag is getting heavy, so I decide to leave the wine and cheese till tomorrow since the shop I want to get it from is on the other side of the village. My feet turn towards home, and I am ready for a nice cup of tea when I get in. Shoes off, hang coat up, unpack, kettle on, tea in pot – ah, that’s good. Sit down with my cuppa and – hang on, wasn’t I supposed to be going to the post office? What for? Oh dear. The letter is still in my pocket!

Ad Hoc Lemon Chicken Casserole

IMG_0364Once again, Sunday lunch crept up on me unawares. That is, I had stuff in the deep freeze and fridge but no carefully thought out “this goes with that” according to a planned schedule of recipes as recommended by guides to being a good housewife. So my preparation today was more like speed dating than matchmaking.

Chicken, that good old standby, goes with almost anything and I always have some chicken breasts for the days where I feel uninspired. There were also four mushrooms looking rather pathetic in the middle of the fridge, with beetroot, celery, broccoli, a red pepper, carrots and parsnips lurking in the veggie drawer. Fresh herbs remaining on the shelf are parsley, mint, rosemary and basil.

On the kitchen counter a dish with lemons and tangerines has been providing a decorative splash of colour for a couple of weeks, and I realised that their skins were beginning to harden. Alert: use-by date probably yesterday! There are innumerable appetising recipes for lemon chicken, mostly with chicken thighs, but as usual I ended up combining several to accommodate my ingredients. The mushrooms, beetroot and parsnips are still in the fridge, ready for another day’s dinner.

Someone recently was advertising an app for students wanting simple recipes, where you enter a list of ingredients and up pop delicious dishes. That seems unnecessary to me – Google or Jeeves will do the same and a bit of imagination can make it an individual speciality.

Our Sunday lunch was very tasty, and probably provided us with enough vitamin C to protect us against colds all through the winter. In fact, it was probably also quite low in calories, too, an additional bonus. And finally, like all casseroles and stews, washing up is kept to a minimum.

Lemon Chicken Casserole

  • 2 chicken breasts, split through the middle into butterflies
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 1 stick celery
  • 3 lemons
  • leaves of 2 sticks of rosemary
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ gas mark 6. Mix the juice of 2 lemons with the honey, oil, butter, rosemary, crushed garlic, salt and pepper, and heat to a fragrant-smelling sauce – I did this in the microwave, to save washing up a saucepan. You could also use the zest of the lemons and probably add a dollop of mustard and soy sauce. I suppose you could also add a chicken stock cube or thicken the sauce with flour. I didn’t so I don’t know if this would improve it or not.

Place the chicken pieces flat on the bottom of a roasting tin or casserole dish and pour the sauce over. Cut the 3rd lemon into 8 wedges, and place evenly around the chicken. Dice the potatoes and vegetables and add to the chicken.

Cook for at least 50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. This casserole can actually stay happily in the oven as long as you like: mine was there for almost 2 hours. I added a few broccoli florets at the end (quickly cooked in the microwave) for extra colour, flavour and vitamins.

My only problem with this dish was finding a wine to go with the strong lemon taste. Or rather, no problem: just no wine!

Celtic Cakes

Apple trees have rewarded their owners this year with a very rich crop, so I was pleased when my cousin turned up laden like a packhorse with a heavy bag on either side, full of pickings from her trees. Nobody knows any more what variety these are, but they make very tasty baked apples, apple pies and crumbles. There were also two enormous spherical courgettes, most welcome additions.IMG_0241

I peeled, cored and sliced for a good half hour and produced enough stewed apple to make a pie, a crumble and fill a plastic container for the freezer. Being in a domestic goddess mood, I made extra crumble mixture, intending to store the surplus in a jar in the fridge until it was needed, but my good intentions were thwarted by a post on Facebook from Wales for Welsh cakes.

My crumble mixture included porridge oats and ground almonds, which are not in the original authentic Welsh cakes mix, and my mother suggested adding a drop of rum – I suppose whiskey would be more fitting for the Scottish accent, but rum goes with the dried fruit. Quantities aren’t precise. You can vary the proportion of oats and nuts, as long as you keep approximately double the amount of flour mixture to fat. I also have a heavy hand with the spices, adding extra cinnamon and nutmeg, but that isn’t to everyone’s taste.

These would originally have been made like drop scones on a griddle, and if you have one you can have fun making these. If unexpected guests turn up, especially if they have children to lend a hand, and you have no cake to offer you could whip up a pan full in no time. Keep them small, and they cook very quickly in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, but you do need an eagle eye to ensure they are turned over before they burn. If you are using a non-stick pan, the butter isn’t really necessary but it does enhance the flavour.

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When they are ready (crispy on the outside, a bit soft in the middle, but do make sure they are cooked through) let them cool. They should keep for about a week in an airtight tin, but that is only hearsay: ours barely survived cooling, and indeed more than one was eaten still warm.

Welsh cakes with a Scottish accent

4 oz (125 g) margarine or butter
4 (125 g) oz SR flour
2 (60 g) oz porridge oats
2 (60 g)oz ground almonds
3 (100 g) oz sugar
2 (60 g) oz raisins (or any other dried fruit)
tsp mixed spice
1 egg
I tsp rum
pinch salt
little milk to bind if necessary

Mix flour, oats, sugar and nuts and rub fat in to make a crumble mixture,
Mix in currants and add egg and rum. Mix to a soft dough – consistency of short crust pastry – adding a splash of milk if it’s too dry.
Roll out to about ½ “ thick, cut into rounds with a pastry cutter and cook in a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a little butter (not too hot – don’t let them burn!) until golden brown and cooked through. About 3 minutes each side. Allow to cool on a wire grid and store in an airtight container.

Salmon with Blueberry and Ginger Glaze

This was our Sunday lunch, with runner beans and pea beans straight from our neighbor’s allotment, carrots and potatoes. Definitely one that will be repeated, and I love the fact that this recipe doesn’t specify quantities: just a couple of handfuls of blueberries, as much or as little fresh ginger as you like, and a dollop of honey. Taste as you add, and the final article stays true to itself. Easy and delicious, and one to impress guests.

The Truly Educated Never Graduate

I promise, this recipe is not as fancy as it sounds. You may be asking, “What made you pair blueberries with salmon?” Well, like most females, during the summer I start to think, “You know, I should work out more. And I should eat healthy foods too!” If you go online and start skimming the various websites on healthy foods and diets, you almost always see salmon and blueberries on the list of foods you should be eating at all times. I’d used berries in glazes before. I knew salmon paired well with ginger and ginger paired well with blueberries. And while the transitivity property of food does not always apply, I decided to give it a shot. [For those who don’t know what I mean by the transitivity property, it’s basically “if X goes with Y and if Y goes with Z then X goes with Z.” Doesn’t usually…

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Lamb Shanks Abroad

My son-in-law has pointed out that a lamb shank goes under the truly fanciful name of souris d’agneau in French: rather a large mouse, I must say, but Wikipedia tells me it’s because of the oval shape of the meat around the tibia.  I suppose the bone sticking out represents the tail.

I already knew that it bears the vaguely aristocratic name of Haxen von Lamm in German – for those unfamiliar with this language, names with a “von” in the middle indicate the higher ranks of society – or the more humble term Lammschenkel. This led me to google the cut in other languages, and to my delight I found the wonderfully unappetising stinco d’agnello in ItalianLam skank (Danish) and lamschenkel (Dutch) bridge the gap between English and German. It’s a cordero in Spanish and a ramushanku in Japanese – a clear attempt at reproducing the English name with a Japanese accent that has inadvertently turned the lamb into a ram. None of these can compete  with the French though: what a poet that butcher must have been who first thought to compare a lamb’s leg to a mouse.