Sunday, 8 January 2017

British Mince Pies

Who knew about mince pies? Probably many people, but not me. Jonathan has always been crazy about them and living in England,  I, too, learned to love them. Not that they're hard to love, just a bit of an adult acquired taste, I think. They're filled with raisins, currents, sultanas, apple, mixed citrus peel, suet (yes, suet!) and lashings of lovely booze. After moving back to the USA, I would bring back boxes of them from Marks and Spencer. Mmm, so lovely and tasty in their neat little tin pie pans, a wonderful little Christmas delight, smelling and tasting of the holidays.

 But Jonathan didn't go to the UK just before Christmas this year, so I got to thinking, I just need to make my own this year. And so I did. And so on to another culinary adventure, and after much research and recipe searching, I do believe I got them down pat.

So, why the research, you might ask? Well, there are a lot of recipes out there, but many include buying ready-made jars of mincemeat, which is not an option available to us Yanks. And even if it were an option, I really wanted to try my hand at making my own. I perused many recipes, some called for actual meat, but to be fair, not many. I'm not really familiar with those calling for meat, so I tossed those recipes right away. Some called for no suet, and in my research I found that the most traditional recipes did call for suet, which may turn a lot of people off, but not me. After all, M&S pies have suet and damn, they are so good. So off I went to figure out what kind of suet I needed and where in the world I would find such a thing.

Lesson number one, no bird suet (I kinda figured that) and the type I needed is beef suet from around the kidneys of the cow. Oh, stop it, I know it may turn some of you off, but trust me here. You don't want suet from the hard muscle areas, only suet from the kidneys and a good butcher will know what you want. After a few calls to local butchers, I found one that processes venison and they use that same suet to mix with the venison to make it more palatable for eating (venison is very lean). So off to the butcher I went to get my very white suet from the kidney area. Side note, it was very cheap, about a dollar a pound. I felt like I'd found gold when I finally had it in my possession, I've now got a stash in the freezer.

Lessons two and three, sultanas are golden raisins, at least as far as I'm concerned! And I happily found currents in my grocery store, they are tiny little things, like itty bitty raisins. Oh, and the mixed citrus peel, well I think I fell down a little on this bit, I just bought it in the produce section, but next year I so intend to make my own. To be frank, I'm just not keen on the bizarre fake green and red color of the store bought mixed peel!

And then came the search for an awesome recipe that sounded good and traditional and here is the one I came upon from the BBC Good Food website. I've made the conversions from metric to US cooking measurements.

1 pound currants
1 pound raisins
1 pound sultanas or golden raisins
1 pound cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped quite finely
1 pound cooking suet from the kidney area- grated
2 cups white sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon allspice
1 large juicy lemon
½ pound of mixed citrus peel chopped finely
½ cup dark rum
½ cup Disaronno Originale Liqueur
¾ cup French brandy

Put the dried fruit in a very large bowl with the apples, suet, sugars and spices. Grate the zest of the lemon into the bowl, then squeeze in the juice. Tip in the peel and the alcohol.
Mix all the ingredients very thoroughly - it's easiest to do this with your hands.
Cover and leave to stand for 24 hours, stir often.
Pack the mincemeat into dishwasher-clean jars. Seal the jars tightly and store in a cool place, I put mine in the fridge.  The mincemeat will last from one year to the next, but's best used within 6 months.

My mincemeat mix

And of course, you must make the tasty little crust in which to house all that lovely mincemeat.  I made my all-time favorite crust recipe and pressed the dough into muffin cups, using a glass to cut the dough to fit the tin. For my pie crust recipe, look here.

And of course, you'll need a top on these little pies, again using a glass to cut your dough, pop on a top layer of dough and seal with the tines of a fork. I also brushed mine with a bit of egg and dusted the tops with sugar.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and Jonathan exclaimed they were the best he's ever had. Oh, how many times have I happily heard that from my lovely husband! And I say that with a giggle. Yes, he's really that sweet!

Bake these little pies at 350 for about 40 minutes, keep an eye on their progress, when they're golden brown, they will be done. Enjoy and happy baking, and I hope your mincemeat pies turn out beautifully! 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew, Sunday Dinner in London, and the Things We Do for Love.

So we're in London, and it's the last leg of our annual three weeks of touring England in September, and as ever, I'm never quite ready to leave. It's been a full three weeks, so many sights, visiting old stomping grounds and all that such entails. It can be rather poignant returning to a place you've loved and experienced great love; a place you realize you'll never reside in again.

There are a lot of memories that live here, feelings of loss and yearning, remembrance of new awakenings, opportunities abounding,  cherished love, so many memories. I return and it all comes flooding back, and I feel like a live wire, touch me and all that existed before suddenly reappears in my nerve endings.

Leaving is never easy, be it a place or a person. We're creatures of habit, and breaking habits is hard. Leaving is hard, and we live our lives leaving so many things behind. It's the nature of the beast. Goodbye is a tough and necessary lesson we all have to learn. And whether or not you want to say it or feel it, we all have to say goodbye, at one time or another, in one way or another.

I have so many wonderful memories of my time in England, here are a lovely few:

Anja on her first day of school in Lincoln. She in her uniform, so alien to all us Americans. Driving her to her first day of school and she loved it, much to our relief.
Anja and friends at The LSST Priory Lincoln.

Driving on the wrong side of the road. You, Jonathan, bought me a brand new Land Rover, and I learned to shift with my left hand and to negotiate those crazy tiny, windy lanes, being careful not to kill all the pedestrians just inches from the roadside.
No pedestrians here, just a beautiful winding lane. 

Missing half and half for my coffee and then discovering pouring cream; dairy never had so many options. Yum.
Coffee at Betty's in York.

Pubs. Stop us now. Too much fun, so many in easy walking distance, so many fun people to chat with.
Love all the hand-pulled ales, although it did take me some time. 

The Cathedral, shining brightly through our dining room window, a thousand years old, right on my doorstep.
What a lovely sight, every night out our window. 

On that first Christmas, negotiating all the stores, and memorably searching for shirt-boxes in which to wrap my gifts, all the while not realizing that boxes were an American indulgence.
Christmas shopping in London

The night Cash was born, sitting with Tash in that birthing room overlooking the Cathedral and sitting in that little pub nearby, waiting for that baby!

Many Saturdays and Sundays going "shopping" in town, only to end up chatting and drinking in Dogma.
So many funny signs in the pubs.

Nights hanging out at "The Cloud," our other living room.
A view I'll never forget.

All our friends we made at "The Tap and Spile," sipping pints, listening to music, meeting interesting souls, and hearing so many stories.

I wake up early, who knows if it's jet lag or too many cocktails the night before? But anyway, I'm up and searching for a really special Sunday- what will please Jonathan? I think I know. First clue, it's Sunday and what does Sunday mean in England? Well, of course, a  Sunday dinner.
I'm married to a Yorkshireman, and those guys count their days on how many Sunday dinners they have. How can I deny my sweetest man something he loves so much? This guy would never deny me a thing, so I am forever trying to return the favour. How can I make his day amazing? I think I've found something really astounding and so off we are to Hawksmoor, supposedly one of the best Sunday dinners in London.
And once we're there, we have to try their most famous cocktail, Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew. Was it as good as it was cracked up to be? Yep, it really was! I recreated it once we were home, and yes, it's definitely worth making the homemade ginger syrup.

Happy us, happy times.

And here is the recipe for Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew:

  1. 35ml Gin (the original calls for Beefeater)
  2. 50ml homemade ginger syrup*
  3. 50ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  4. 100ml London Pride ale
Whizz up the ginger syrup, lemon juice, gin and half a cup of ice in a blender. Strain through a sieve into a frozen beer stein and top up with London Pride beer.  If you don’t have a blender, place the ginger syrup, lemon juice and gin in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Guarantee you will really love this.
*Recipe for Ginger Syrup from David Lebowitz:

  1. 8 ounces (225g) fresh ginger, unpeeled
  2. 4 cups (1L) water
  3. 2 cups (400g) sugar
  4. pinch salt

1. Cut the ginger into thin slices. 

2. Place the ginger along with the water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Heat to a boil, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer, and cook for 45 minutes to one hour.
3. Let cool, then strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer. Store the strained syrup in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use. The syrup should keep for at least two weeks under refrigeration.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Ode to Shrimp Sambuca and the Never Ending Summer

Just when you thinks it's all over, when you're sure you'll never drop those sunglasses over your brow and feel the heat of those hot summer rays, along comes a fall day that makes you believe it will never end. Summer, that is, those long toasty days that slow to a crawl, cuz you can only crawl through the hot days of glory, when you secretly long for a cool breeze, a bit of relief and before you know it, they're gone. And then you want them back. Such is life, the crazy contradictions, the wanes and wants, the sun, the shadows, the bit of shade, the heat of the sun on your bare summer arms. In the falling light of autumn, when the days shorten and the cool winds blow, when the leaves litter the ground and the mornings are brisk, here's a recipe to make you believe that summer will never end.

Shrimp Sambuca, the easiest way to call summer back, a taste of these will send your senses reeling back to hot summer suns and happy days under the beach umbrella. Make them anytime you're craving a bit of sunshine in your life. Who says you can't light the grill even when the autumn winds blow or the winter snows fall?

Marinated and grilled, a taste of summer any day of the year. 
Sometimes the simplest antidotes are the most effective and simple defines this recipe. First, start with the biggest and best shrimp you can find. Shell and devein the shrimp, and marinate them in a bit of Sambuca along with the chopped garlic, but only marinate them for 15 minutes maximum, no more or they will be too strong.

Next, wrap each shrimp in one slice of prosciutto, and tuck a sprig of rosemary into each parcel.

Grilled Shrimp Sambuca

1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined 
1/4 cup Sambuca liquore
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 lb thinly sliced prosciutto- the finest you can afford
15 small sprigs of rosemary

After shelling and deveining the shrimp, toss them in a bowl with the Sambuca and the garlic. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Remove the shrimp and wrap each in one slice of prosciutto, tucking a sprig of rosemary into each parcel. Grill over medium high heat for about two minutes per side. Serve with a bit of Sriracha mayo for a dipping sauce- 1/2 cup mayonnaise mixed with 2 tablespoons of Sriracha. Enjoy a bit of summer any day of the year. 
PS Don't eat the rosemary!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Soup to Bridge the Seasons- Ginger Basil Chicken Meatball Soup

Ponder a bridge, a beautiful bridge, one that takes you from one lovely place to another. Picture your journey, leaving one side and entering someplace new, someplace wonderful, and the bridge, which can be easily forgotten (but shouldn't), is how you arrive. Bridges are important, they make transitions easier, they pace out life, allowing you to look behind, while guiding you forward. They propel you to a new future, giving you time to reflect on the past and gather your senses for a new adventure.

Okay, this is a rather spectacular bridge, but if we are to dream, why not dream big?
Summer to autumn, not always an easy transition, we drag our feet from flip-flops into shoes and socks, out of shorts and into jeans, the green leaves take on color and the nights become cool. Here is a soup that can make this change a little bit easier, it has the taste of summer with the warmth of fall, and just invites you to walk to the other side with open arms (and mouths).

Warm and filling with just a taste of summer.
This recipe, from the inspiring Dorie Greenspan, never fails to make me happy, it's easy, quick and so good. You really should give it a try, I don't think you'll be disappointed, it has the flavors of summer with the warmth of fall, a perfect soup to bridge the seasons.

Ginger Basil Chicken Meatball Soup

First to make the Meatballs-

2 1/2 quarts chicken broth- I prefer Swansons low sodium broth

2 large eggs (lightly beaten with a fork)

1/2 cup whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup chopped onion or shallot- rinse and pat dry

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil- maybe you still have some in your herb garden

1/4 cup bread crumbs

2 cloves of chopped garlic

1 teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger- do not leave this out!

Grated zest of one lemon- again, do not leave this out!

1 teaspoon salt- preferably sea salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 pound of ground chicken or turkey

Mix all of the above- except the broth, lightly in a bowl (use your hands to gently combine all the ingredients)- set aside. It's best to add the meat last. 

Next, bring the chicken broth to a light boil in a large pot, I use a dutch oven type pan, but you can use whatever you have on hand- just make sure it's rather large. Turn the broth down to a slow bubble and form the meatball mixture into balls about the size of golf balls. Drop them gently into the pot of broth (use a large spoon) and let them simmer for about 10 minutes.  You may need to do the meatballs in two batches. After 10 minutes, take the meatballs out and put them into a bowl. Set the meatballs aside, and save the broth. 

For the next step-In a separate pot, cook half a package of egg noodles- you can use any type of noodles, but I prefer egg noodles. This step is really important, as when you cook the noodles separately, they don't soak up all the broth when you finally combine the whole soup. Drain noodles and reserve for last step.

And for the last step-Bring the broth to a light simmer, and add about 4 cups of vegetables- I like to add celery, carrot, a bit of savoy cabbage and green peas, green beans are nice, too. You can add whatever you'd like- just make sure the vegetables are chopped finely enough to cook rather quickly. After a few minutes of cooking the vegetables, add the meatballs and the noodles, let it all heat through, about 5 minutes.  Turn the heat off, serve and enjoy this culinary bridge from summer to autumn.  

Friday, 19 February 2016

Tourtiere or French Canadian Meat Pie

What food makes you most think of Christmas? Might it be mince pies, or maybe gingerbread men, could it be that jello salad that your grandmother always made? So many foods are associated with the Christmas holiday; candy canes, nuts, turkey, clementines, that dreaded fruit cake, but for me and mine it's definitely tourtiere, the traditional French Canadian meat pie.

From left to right, my Great Aunt Flo, my mom Claudette, and my Grandmaman, Natalie D'Aoust
Above you'll see my inspirations, my memories, the lovely women who toiled at Christmas to bring us wonderful traditions and fill the house with fabulous smells. And so now, to me and mine, this tradition is passed down, these fragrant and tasty pies are made again, each and every year. It's a labour of love, of preserving the past and hanging on to those we cherish and honoring their talents and love for family. I miss those lovely women, but when I work the crust and simmer the meat with all those spices, they come alive again. Christmas is here, the memories come alive, it's all about love and family, and passing down these wonderful culinary traditions.

To start, use good meat. If you can, grind it yourself or go to a reputable butcher and get them to grind the meat fresh for you. Try to get free-range organic, it's always worth the price and peace of mind to get humanely raised meat. You'll need both beef and pork, more pork than beef. One pie needs about 2 1/2 pounds of meat, so 1 1/2 pounds of pork and 1 pound of beef is a nice mix. I like to grind my own beef chuck, and for the pork, a tenderloin is perfect. 

Put your meat in a very large pot, and add a ton of onion (about 2 large onions, chopped) and 4 cloves of garlic, minced. 

Next, after you've put your raw meat in a large pot, along with the onions and garlic, it's time to add the water and spices. Add water to just cover the meat and onions, and now to flavor this fabulous mixture- you'll need 3 bay leaves (they make literally everything nice), 2 tsp of allspice, 1 tsp of ground cloves, 2 tsp of savory, 2 tsp of pepper and 2 tsp of salt. Break everything up with a large wooden spoon, turn the heat to a nice medium, watch it for 10 minutes or so, enjoy the smell as it all starts to come together. When you see a bit of action, some bubbling, turn it down to a nice simmer, grab a jelly jar and splash in a bit of brandy and sit back and enjoy the lovely smells that will soon permeate your kitchen. Close your eyes for a minute, remember all those Christmas's past, put on some great holiday music, and just revel in the moment. 

Add water to cover, mix in the spices and wait for nice smells to fill the kitchen.

By now you must be immersed in great music, great smells and a slight buzz from that little snifter of brandy. Okay, roll up your sleeves, because it's time to make some crust in which to put that savory meat. Ah, homemade crust, everyone gets a bit hesitant here, but let me tell you, your worst effort will be 100 times better than store bought crust, so buck up and get out the flour. For your crust recipe, look under Best Pie Crust under Coconut Cream Pie in June 2010 on this blog. You've got plenty of time, your meat should cook at a slow simmer for about 3 hours. 
Once your crust is made, and the bottom crust is pressed into the pie plate, fill with the meat, but drain off some of the water first if it seems too soupy, you want it moist but not sloppy. Pop on the top crust, and put your pie in at 400 for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350 for about 45 minutes. Get ready for a slice of Christmas heaven. Tourtiere is a great dish to have on hand over the holidays, it heats well in the microwave, a slice at a time for whenever someone needs a bit of love and sustenance. Serve it with bread and butter pickles or chutney, and always with a kiss. 

The smell of Christmas, a French Canadian Toutiere meat pie.
From left to right, my daughter Natashka, myself, and lovely friend Donna Nowak, making tourtiere!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Yorkshire Pudding, Otherwise Affectionately Known as Yorkies.

Yorkshire pudding seems to be so ubiquitously British. No one seems to make them here in the United States and that is such a shame! After all, how can one go wrong with Yorkshire + pudding. So easy to make, so British, so delicious! I think my mom, little French Canadian girl that she was, was the one exception. When I was little, she often made a Yorkshire pudding when we had roast beef. Her sister Carmen married a Brit and lived there for a while, I can only guess that's how she came to make Yorkies. One great thing about Yorkies is that you most likely have everything you need to make them in your fridge right now. No need to run to the grocery store!

Beautiful scene taken in Northern Yorkshire

Well, as for the pudding component, we Americans think of Jello Instant Pudding, Brits think of any type of dessert, always known as the pudding course. But Yorkies are neither, they are a tasty little basket in which to pop savory, soupy things.

American style pudding
Pudding means dessert in England
When I think of Yorkshire, I only think of one thing, my Yorkshireman!

How British can you get? My Yorkshireman at Stonehenge.
But I digress, and now for the recipe to make fabulous Yorkshire puddings. They're so easy and so good. Make them anytime you want a tasty little receptacle to fill with anything yummy, like roast beef and gravy or roast chicken and veggies, or a vegetarian stew.
Perfectly fluffy and crispy Yorkies.
Fabulous and Perfect Yorkshire Puddings
1 cup of all purpose flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
oil for cooking- I prefer duck or goose fat, but vegetable or coconut oil will be fine

And now for the ease of it all, just pop the milk, eggs, flour and salt in a blender, and blend at medium speed for about 3 minutes. Let the mixture stand for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450, add one teaspoon of oil to each receptacle of a muffin tin. Pop the muffin tin with oil into the oven at 450. When the oil begins to smoke, about 10 minutes later, pull the pan out of the oven, pour in the batter, about halfway up each receptacle, and put back in the oven. Let bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, when they look like mine above, take out of oven and serve hot and crispy, filled with gravy, veggies, stew or whatever magical concoction you devise!

Yorkies, so delicious and so easy!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Happy 50th Birthday to Jonathan!

Jonathan celebrated his 50th birthday this summer, what a perfect occasion to pick up our Ten Plates summer tradition. It had been a couple of years since we had hosted our famous Ten Plates dinner party and we were missing this fabulously decadent and major labor of love, summer party occasion. Tash and I devised this feast several years ago to celebrate Jonathan's end of July birthday. He loves to eat, we love to cook. The end result, a culinary gift of love to our sweet guy. 

We decided to do a menu based on traditional British dishes, but with an American twist. It's the story of our lives, blending our two cultures together, so much fun, always so interesting, and sometimes a bit controversial!

The deck is always on oasis of serene, leafy green and big enough for several tables. Lucky for us, cousins Tasha and Jim came early to help us set up.

The party is just starting, and what a party it was! So much fun; wonderful guests, the food turned out great and we even had fabulous music thanks to Will, Beth, Susannah and Chris!

Our first course, Smoked Mackerel Butty, was a twist on the famous bacon buttys of England. We made our own butty, actually a parmesan basil muffin and instead of the traditional bacon, we sandwiched smoked Michigan whitefish in the middle. It was a stretch, but a tasty one. 

Here, Tash and I are putting together the "Oh, I Only Drink Bubbles," second course, devised to put everyone at very happy ease! Btw, isn't she something? I think so.

The third course was one of our very favorites, foie gras. As an added treat, we found Italian maraschino cherries to grace the top. So rich and delicious.

This lettuce dish was a really spectacular fourth course.
Finding the quail eggs in West Michigan was a bit of a challenge, but after scouring the Asian stores in Grand Rapids, I finally scored what I needed. 

Fifth course, summer soup with fresh Michigan corn, South Shore basil and silken summer tomatoes.

These next little guys packed some gustatory punch! Our sixth course is simple to make and full of flavor, yet light and tasty. Marinate your shrimp for 10 minutes in Sambuca liqueur (tastes like licorice), wrap in prosciutto and grill for one minute per side. Serve with a bit of sriracha mayo. The result, heaven on earth, but in your mouth! 

Our seventh course was a spin on all the sweet corn sandwich choices available in your local Marks and Sparks. So this is not a sandwich, but it does incorporate sweet summer corn and Michigan summer tomatoes, blended with fresh pesto to make you wish summer would never end. 

These are as good as they look. Our eighth course, luscious lobster fritters, with a kiss on top and served with capered remoulade. Kill me now. 

For our ninth course, we salute Jonathan's drunken late night English vice, lamb kebabs. Ours were a bit more refined, baby lamb lollies grilled with herbs and our very own preserved lemons. Jonathan loved them, just saying. 

For our final and tenth course, we presented our very own house-made vanilla ice-cream, Michigan peaches and rich pound cake. Suffice to say, all plates were cleared and a very happy night was had by all! 

Life is best celebrated by enjoying the moment, savoring every memory, and making it all count. Life is fleeting, tender and so very precious. Grab it by the tail! Cheers and best wishes to our dear Jonathan, on his 50th birthday. You are loved. 

And, as they say, the proof is in the pudding!  Here is our birthday boy dancing on the table, cuz all great parties end this way!