My AltPunk Christmas: The Vodka Mincemeat Recipe

Mincemeat Ingredients

Mincemeat Ingredients

Factoid: Mrs Beaton’s original mincemeat recipe did not contain cinnamon—it was all nutmeg.  However, the recipe below is less about being historically accurate than about avoiding anaphylactic shock.  I hope I don’t go on about it, but I do have serious food allergies—to cinnamon largely—and it is particularly hard on me at this time of year. Christmas can make me so resentful, which let’s face it, is not exactly the yuletide spirit. I adored tucking into Christmas Cake, the flaming Pud, Mince Pies and all the rest but each and every one of these dishes contains the deadly cinnamon.  I even had to run out of John Lewis one time as the aircon was pumping around some cinnamon-inspired chemical Chrimbo.

I decided this year to stop with the envy and make a spice mix that would make me some mince pies.  When trawling about looking for ideas and proportions I found this great link to the history of Mincedmeat from Mediaeval times to the modern day: http://historicalfoods.com/mincemeat-recipes-for-mince-pies

There is so much variation in ingredients and spices that it gave me a lot of confidence about doing my own thing.  After faffing about a bit, I have now come up with a mix that really works well for seasonal sweet dishes, and could be used as a general substitute for ground mixed spice that normally contains cinnamon.

Hampshirecook’s Spice Mix:

  • Equal quantities of ground dried Ginger, Nutmeg, Cloves, Coriander and Caraway–I grind these myself in a spice grinder as required.
  • Half a Vanilla Pod or a few drops of Vanilla Extract.

I may be talking absolute rubbish here, but the vanilla seems to smooth out the heat of the spice flavours, particularly taking out that top-note acid ginger bite—it makes the flavours altogether more mellow.  Cinnamon can have that quality too, so maybe the Vanilla is acting in a similar way.

So to the recipe. When I do substitutions, I try to avoid making a pastiche of something else.  Who really wants to “taste the difference”?  I would far rather a dish presents itself proudly in its own right.  Accordingly, I decided to do a different style of mincemeat with slightly different ingredients and that would marry up more with the nutmeg: so it was Pears instead of Apples, Crystallized Stem Ginger instead of Mixed Candied Peel, and Cranberries, Dates and Apricots in the Currant/Sultana mix.  I have to say this was an utter success. Hub was trying to eat it out of the preserving jar that I was trying to put it into.  It is a lovely, lovely combination, which I would never have stumbled on or bothered about if it wasn’t for that darned cinnamon thing. And my house smells very nice too, bonus!

And the finished mincemeat.

Ingredients:

(Makes just over a litre by volume, fills one medium Tesco storage clip jar)

  • 100g Unsalted Butter
  • 200g Dark Brown Soft Sugar
  • 200ml Cranberry Juice
  • 3 Tsp Ground Mix Spice
  • ½ a Vanilla Pod
  • 250g Pears, peeled and diced small
  • 200g Sultanas
  • 200g Currants
  • 100g Dried Cranberries
  • 50g Crystalised Stem Ginger
  • 100 g Chopped Dates
  • 100g Chopped Dried Apricots
  • 150 ml Vodka (or alcohol of your choice; Brandy is traditional but there is a cinnamon chemical in Brandy…yadah, yadah it just goes on, allergies are sooo BORING.)

Method:

(Takes about 30 minutes or so all in)

Combine the butter, sugar and all the spices in a large saucepan, heating gently while stirring until the butter is all melted and there are no big sugary lumps left. Add in the cranberry juice and stir, then add in the pears and the rest of the dry ingredients along with the vanilla pod.  Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the pear is softened (15 minutes or so).  Fish out the vanilla pod (it will be hot!), scrape out any remaining seeds and put the seeds back in the pan and stir round. Allow the mixture to cool a little before adding in the vodka as you do not want the alcohol to boil off.  Spoon into sterilised jars and seal when it is cooled enough to handle.  Do this out of sight of your family or there will be none left.  This should at least keep for at least one month in the fridge, and it is possible to extend the shelf life to about six months if you double-up the alcohol.

Am off to do the mince pies now.  I’m too late to do a cake, but Christmas pud could well be home-made this year!

[PS If you are interested in following the historic link above, I would be quick as all the amazing historic recipes on that site are transferring over to RecipeWISE in January and most will then be behind a paywall. Such a shame, but I dont blame them, historic recipes are not a natural draw for advertising-based business models!]

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Cupcakes are the “My Little Pony” of Baking…

First Cupcake

My First Cupcake

…Or so says my husband.  He thinks cupcakes are an utterly twee and girly obsession, much like the My Little Pony phenomena, and while I don’t bake, I had bought a tray of some very nice cupcakes a couple of weeks ago which the man and boy were sort of fighting over after dinner.  Tweeness not necessarily an obstruction to scoffing then…

So, baking in all probability would be rather well received round our house, and above is my very first home-baked cupcake.  But, more of the provenance of my lovely cake (and BTW my very first attempt at piping frosting) later since in all probability this is likely to be the pinnacle of my achievements in this competitive field.  There are much better blog sources to go to for cupcake inspiration/porn/sheer wonder.  And there sure are some weird and wacky innovations in the cupcake world; what women can achieve in their own domestic environments amazes me…and slightly horrifies at the same time.  All that creative energy poured into paper cake cases and sprinkled on butter cream icing.

Or, indeed, delicately spooned into actual egg shells.  Easter cupcakes baked inside a hollowed out egg shell?  Check out this amazing feat in not just one blog but two: Cupcake Project and Delicious Days.

Cupcake flowers are very popular. Heaven is a Cupcake have some stunning examples of bouquet baskets, and claim to have originated the concept.  Cupcake wedding cake tiers to me are a bit “yesterday” but an actual cupcake wedding bouquet?  See this super example over at Souperior.

Cupcakes can celebrate every life stage, from baby showers to birthdays, marriages, divorces and remarkably, cupcakes can even mark the final event.  Sympathy cupcake bouquets (wreaths?) are being made and blogged about, e.g.over at Cakecentral.com.  The baker used “devil’s food cake mix” for the sponge and I am not entirely sure the irony was intended.  If it was, then that is bloody hilarious. I am thinking about putting in an advance order for a couple of folks I know who are unfortunately still with us.

Celebrations aside, cupcakes can also accompany you through life’s traumas.  We could all do worse than check into Cupcakes on Bedrest with a few words of encouragement for the blogger recovering from serious illness and distracting herself with cupcake making.  Don’t mention though the site http://www.cupcaketherapy.com.au, a commercial venture with the incredible tagline: “They taste so good you won’t want to be cured“.  Only in Oz.  And for experiments in pink champagne cupcakes (now that’s my kind of therapy) checkout a WordPress blog also called Cupcake Therapy.  Yet another therapy site–www.cupcaketherapy.biz of Baltimore–could send you a carton of their rather frankly named “piglets” or perhaps half a dozen “southern comforts”.  Eat, drink and be merry…all in a cupcake.

An amazing resource and a great place for generally surfing the world of cupcakes is the self-proclaimed #1 Blog about cupcakes, “Cupcakes Take the Cake“.  Their blogroll is truly awesome, hundreds of sites listed either dedicated to or that include the art of making pretty wee sponges.  Random browsing through their roll, I love/hate the vegan blog “Post Punk Kitchen” and can’t decide whether it is too sickly to be postmodern, or the epitome of post-postmodernism.  All I can say is that I won’t be making a punk rock cookie jar.  Or buying one of their naff aprons.  But, enough folks must like such kit(sch) or they wouldn’t have an online shop. (I should say in fairness that if they did oven gloves I might be tempted into a purchase myself.)

And so to the provenance of my own (and in light of all of the above, rather pathetically feeble) efforts.  My blog is about making family cooking easier, not harder.  Et Voila 😉

Fresh Fruit Salad: Recipe for a Spiced Syrup Glaze

Fresh Fruit Berry Salad

This post is a recipe for a thick, spiced syrup glaze for fruit salad.  It comes from one of my great Oxfam second-hand cookery book purchases: The Prawn Cocktail Years.  The authors, Simon Hopkinson and Lyndsey Bareham, have been writing cookery columns and publishing recipe collections since the mid-90’s, racking up scores of books and a great library for the ordinary family cook.  This particular book deconstructs British bistro and restaurant fayre from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and then tells you how to make the dishes properly, so if you ever want to know how to make authentic spag bol/weiner schnitzel and a host of other favourites that many of us grew up with, then this is your resource.  Nostalgia, only much better than you remember…

Ingredients (makes more than enough for a large bowl of salad to serve 6):

  • 300g/1.5 US Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 200 ml (6.75 US fl oz) Water
  • 100 ml (3 1/3 US fl oz) of a fruity White Wine (I used a Muscat dessert wine, it was truly wonderful)
  • 3 Cardomom Pods
  • 2 small Bay Leaves, torn
  • 2 Cloves
  • Blade of Mace
  • The original recipe has 4-5 strips of pithless lemon peel, I did not use this but put in a squeeze of fresh lemon instead, again, it was fab.

Method:

Put all of the ingredients into a heavy-based teflon or similar coated pan on the stove (the mix can react with aluminium uncoated pans), whisk together and stir over a low heat until mixture comes to the boil (only five minutes or so) and then simmer for a further five minutes, keeping an eye on it and stirring as necessary.  Take off the heat and leave covered to cool, and then strain through a seive into a jug.  Serve over mixed fruits, which you can prepare in advance of the rest of dinner…

Any excess can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container for a very, very long time. I would be happy to store this for a couple of months or more.

Fruit Salad Combinations that Work:

The authors say “less is more” with fruit salad, and I tend to agree.  Balancing cost and taste, three fruits in combo seems just about right to me.  I also never use apples in fruit salads, but that is probably just my prejudice.  In truth, simple ripe pears with this syrup glaze would be just as lovely.

Very Berry Fruits: Strawberries, Cherries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Seedless Red Grapes, Pears, Sweet Plums

Tropical Fruits: Lychees, Pineapple, Melon, Kiwis, Grapes, Passionfruit, Watermelon, Peaches, Mango chunks, Papaya, Banana (cut and add slices at the last minute; if you expect leftovers, then don’t use banana at all as they dissolve into brown slimey mush)

Luxury Fruits: Figs, Melon, Seedless Green Grapes, Pipless Orange / Clementine Segments, Apricots

“The Prawn Cocktail Years” is still available from amazon in the paperback version for only a couple of pounds/dollars: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prawn-Cocktail-Years-Simon-Hopkinson/dp/0333725948/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1310136023&sr=8-2

A Plum Dumb Day

Plums

My neighbour handed me in a big bag of plums yesterday–her bushes have gone into overdrive this year.  So, Plum Crumble, obv.   But, then I discover there is no flour in the cupboard, and though I do have some oats I could use instead, there is not enough sugar for the whole thing and my car battery is dead because I left a door open overnight by mistake and the courtesy light drained the battery and I need my hub home so I can get to Halfords and buy a charger because no mechanic down our way can be arsed to come out and sort this today, and I can’t get to the shops meantime even if I walked because it’s raining cats and dogs and and my foot still hurts like billyo anyway from where I dropped a mallet on it a couple of weeks ago…OK, you get the picture.

SO: it’s stewed plums with some cream. 

750g Plums

Knob of Butter

Caster Sugar, about 4 large heaped dessertspoons

Squeeze of Lemon Juice

1 x Star Anise

Grating of Nutmeg

Wash and cut the plums in halves or into quarters with the larger ones.  Remove the stone.  Use a deep, wide frying-style pan rather than a sauce pan, so you can move the plums around a little without mashing them to a pulp, unless you want pulp of course.  Stew with some sugar, a squeeze of lemon, a star anise, a grate of nutmeg and a knob of butter over a low heat for about 10-15 minutes.  Serve warm or cooled with a dollop of double cream on top.  This amount of plums would serve 6 easily, I am planning to freeze the remainder.

Stewed Plums

Stewed Plums