Monday, November 30, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 22: Mincemeat

Have you ever made an obscene quantity of a food almost everyone you know claims to abhor? Personally, I get a perverse satisfaction out of making things that seem horrific, like pease porridge or anything made with chicken livers. I also recently stirred up six quarts of mincemeat. Expect several mincemeat recipes in a few weeks. If you'd like to scare your holiday guests (and perhaps expand their palettes in the process), here's my mincemeat recipe:

1 pound vegetable shortening, frozen then grated butter or shredded suet
1 pound eating apples (Gala, for example), peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 pound chopped dried dates (they come already chopped in 8-ounce boxes)
1 pound dried currants
1 pound raisins
1 pound golden raisins
1 pound golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons mixed spice
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
juice of lemon and orange plus brandy to equal 1 quart

Mix everything together in a huge bowl (it makes 6 quarts, remember?) and cover. Leave in a cool place for 3 weeks, adding brandy if needed.

In case you don't have a set of kitchen scales, I just might have some extra mincemeat I could send your way...


Last week, I finished all twenty-two hours and twenty-five minutes of The Pallisers (I started it this summer), which ran on Masterpiece Theatre back in the 1970s. Television technology had advanced quite a bit since The First Churchills. Parts of The Pallisers are even filmed outside. It can be slow in places and there were times when I didn't much feel like watching it, but it turned out to be quite pleasant viewing. Only recommended for die-hard fans of Masterpiece Theatre, 19th century British novels or Parliamentary politics. Keep an eye out for Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons (pre-Brideshead, in very similar roles).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 21: Stir-up Sunday

"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded..." (Book of Common Prayer)

The last Sunday before Advent (it was November 22nd this year) is called "Stir-up Sunday" because of the previous quote which is from the collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer. (I retain the 1549 wording and studiously ignore Rite II wording, created by the American Episcopal church in 1979--I'm a bit of a Luddite.) Fortuitously, the last Sunday before Advent is also a convenient time to stir up Christmas Pudding.

Speaking of Luddism, I'm going to let my pudding "mature" for the next month in my larder (upstairs landing closet, although Delia Smith recommends "under the bed in an unheated bedroom") along with six quarts of mincemeat. You might be terrified about leaving food out for four weeks, but no worries. People have been doing this kind of thing for centuries. Then again, maybe that isn't the best argument. It is important, though, to have a cold house, as in drafty, put-on-another-sweater cold, to best emulate the conditions maturing puddings and mincemeat need to thrive. I like to think of the Balmoral scenes in The Queen when they're all running around in flannel pajamas with hot water bottles in August. That's my kind of climate! I'm quite parsimonious when it comes to turning on the heat, but then again, if I weren't, I wouldn't have anywhere cool enough to be a larder.

If you'd like to mature your own pudding this year, it isn't too late (you should probably go ahead and get it done by next week, though). Here's the recipe I used (adapted from Delia Smith's):

Serves 6-8

1/2 cup (3 oz.) vegetable shortening (or grated suet or grated frozen butter)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (3 oz.) homemade white bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup golden brown sugar, lightly packed
2/3 cup (3 oz.) golden raisins
2/3 cup (3 oz.) raisins
1 1/2 cups (7 oz.) dried currants
1/3 cup candied peel, finely chopped*
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1-6 ounce Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 orange
4 teaspoons rum
1/4 cup brandy (try to use VSOP at least)
1/4 cup stout (I prefer Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout to the ubiquitous Guinness)
2 eggs, beaten with a fork

Begin the day before you want to steam the pudding. In a large mixing bowl, combine your preferred fat (shortening, suet or butter) with the flour, baking powder, salt, breadcrumbs, spices and sugar. Then stir in the dried fruit, candied peel, almonds, apples and zests, mixing until combined. Next, add the liquor and eggs and sir thoroughly. (This is the "stir up" part. Everyone in the household should get a chance to stir the pudding and make a wish.) The batter will be very liquid as far as cake batters go. Cover it and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, grease a 1-quart pudding basin (I got mine from and pile in the batter (it will have firmed up significantly), smoothing out the top. Fill a steamer pot with water almost up to the steamer basket and bring the water up to a boil. Meanwhile, you'll need to cover the pudding basin. Watch this video to learn how. Don't forget the pleat and ignore the part about the water coming up the side of the basin. When the water is up to the boil, add the pudding basin to the steamer basket and put the lid on. You might want to turn the heat down to medium-high. The pudding will steam for 6 hours. Keep an eye on the water level of the steamer and add boiling water (use the tea kettle) as needed. The steamer will boil off water more quickly than you expect!

After six hours, remove the pudding and take off the foil and parchment cover. Let the pudding cool (this will take a while) then recover and move to your larder (or unheated bedroom, I have one of those, too!). Every week until Christmas, feed the pudding one more tablespoon of brandy and replace its cover.

When Christmastime arrives, I'm going to re-steam the pudding (for 1 1/2 hours), set it aflame and serve it with brandy butter. You'll have to check back later for all of that.

*I just candied the other half of the lemon and orange, using the Martha Stewart recipe. However, I've found that the peel only needs about 10 minutes of simmering in the syrup rather than an hour. I had an unfortunate incident with burnt orange-flavored caramel once. You'll only need one cup of sugar and one cup of water.


I'll be back with in a few days with my mincemeat recipe (which needs 3 weeks of maturing until Christmas). Until then, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 20: Fawkes-y Food

I know that there are many of my readers who know the historical ins and outs of the Gunpowder Plot, so if your only exposure to Guy Fawkes is through that movie V for Vendetta (I would like to take this time to assert that it is in no way acceptable to blow up a UNESCO World Heritage Site), I direct you to Parliament's overview of the Gunpowder Plot. Since burning effigies was out of the question, Paul and I celebrated the prevention of Jacobean domestic terrorism by (what else?) eating.

Parkin originated in Yorkshire (like Guy Fawkes) and is very closely related to gingerbread, but it has oatmeal in it, because oatmeal was much more readily available in the north of England than wheat flour.


3 ounces golden syrup
1 ounce black treacle
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 pound butter (1 stick), if chilled, cut into tablespoons
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a small saucepan on a kitchen scale and pour in 3 ounces golden syrup followed by 1 ounce treacle (or 3 ounces unsulfured molasses--not blackstrap--and 1 ounce corn syrup). Place the pan over low heat and stir in the brown sugar and butter. While the butter melts, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, oats, and ginger in a large mixing bowl. When the butter has melted (mixture will look like Gloppy the Molasses Monster from Candy Land), pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and combine with a spatula. Add the milk, egg and baking soda and stir until incorporated. Pour batter into a greased 9x13 pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack and then cut into 18 squares. Cake can be left in an airtight container to "mature" for a few days (or you can just go ahead and eat it). Parkin can also be frozen.

Recipe adapted from British Cookery by Jane Grigson.

Cheater's Bangers and Mash

This is a cheater's recipe because you can use jarred caramelized onions, which means that this meal only takes about half an hour. I like Archer Farms Caramelized Onion Burger Topper, or you can make your own with this recipe.

I picked Bangers and Mash as a Bonfire Night recipe because it's homey and nicely suited to cool weather. Plus, I had already made Parkin and wanted something easy.

Serves 2

4 pork sausages*
1/2 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons caramelized onions

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cream

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, add the sausages and sear on all sides. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook the sausages until they are no longer pink inside (25 to 30 minutes).

While the sausages are cooking, boil the potatoes in salted water until very tender (about 15 to 20 minutes). Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Return the potatoes to the cooking pot and mash them with a fork or potato masher. Add the butter and cream and stir to combine. If needed, add some of the cooking water in small increments. Season potatoes to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

When the sausages are ready, remove them to a plate, turn the heat up to high and deglaze the pan with the beef stock. When the beef stock comes to a simmer, stir in the caramelized onions and cook until reduced to your liking. Plate up the potatoes and sausages and cover with gravy. Enjoy!

Adapted from this recipe from BBC Good Food.

*I actually use Archer Farms Bratwursts, because they aren't really brats; they're oversized breakfast sausages, which is perfect. They are, however, very salty, so the gravy doesn't need to be salted.


In other news, I have book and DVD recommendations:

I just finished the eighth Stephanie Plum novel and have laughed my way through all eight (laughing-out-loud, don't read in front of others because they'll think I'm crazy). Stephanie Plum is a layed-off lingerie buyer who, out of desperation, becomes a very incompetent bounty hunter. The books are quick-paced light reading that I wholeheartedly recommend. The first book in the series is One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. Paul is even reading them now.

I also just finished watching the first season of Lark Rise to Candleford from Netflix. Part Little House on the Prairie, part Anne of Green Gables, the series is sweet and wholesome without being preachy or saccharine. Plus, for all of you who love Pride and Prejudice, Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet) plays the local postmistress. Great to watch while knitting.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 19: Frozen Dinners

Beef Shepherd's Pie with Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

Makes three 2-person servings

For the filling:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound ground beef
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1/2 pound carrots (about 4 medium), scraped and chopped into medallions
1 1/4 cups beef stock
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

For the topping:
3 pounds potatoes
1/4 cup butter
2 ounces cheddar, grated (approximately 3/4 cup)

  • Heat the butter over medium heat until it foams and add the onion. Saute until softened, but not browned.
  • Turn heat to medium-high, add the ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up large chunks of meat as you go.
  • Add the tomatoes, carrots, stock, Worcestershire sauce, oregano and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the potato topping:
  • Peel the potatoes and chop them into approximately 1-inch pieces.
  • Boil in salted water for 20-25 minutes, until very soft and starting to break down.
  • Drain the potatoes, return them to the pot and beat with electric beaters. Beat in the butter and cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • When the filling is ready, add the frozen peas and divide between three 8" x 4" tin foil disposable loaf pans (the ones with plastic lids). Top with potato filling and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon.
  • Cover each of the loaf pans with plastic wrap then their lids. Cool completely in the refrigerator before transferring to the freezer.
  • When you're ready to cook one, defrost in the fridge for 24 hours. Then, remove the lid and plastic wrap and place in the oven. Set the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and set the timer for an hour. The pie should be completely heated through and the potato topping should be starting to brown. Enjoy!
  • If you'd like to skip all the freezing and fix the entire pie at once, preheat the oven to 350 degrees then bake the assembled pie (in a 9"x13" casserole) for 30 to 40 minutes.
Recipe adapted from Tea & Sympathy.

We don't have a microwave (did you know that 90% of American households have one?), so I like to make things in individual portions that can just be cooked rather than reheated. Food tends to taste better that way, too. I don't even miss having a microwave (the kitchen is way too small for one); plus, I learned how to make Kettle Corn on the stove, which was awesome. Anyhow, Shepherd's Pie keeps well and the "disposable" loaf pans can be washed and reused (or recycled). They're just flimsy and have to be pushed back into shape!

In other news, you might have noticed that Saturday was Halloween. Paul and I were invited to a party (thanks to Russ for having us Sooners over), so we had to dress up. If you've been wondering, "Where's Waldo?", he's right here:

This photo makes me laugh. I made the pompom! We were going to dye a shirt, but it came out too purple and we had to make an emergency trip to the mall. We finally found Waldo's polo at Abercrombie & Fitch, where Paul claims he was traumatized.

"What was your costume, Lauren?" you might ask. I was a witch, which isn't terribly creative, but it sure was easy on a week's notice. Plus, I found a great hat and stripy tights, so I was happy.

In case you were wondering, Halloween was originally Samhain, a Celtic festival celebrating the last harvest of the year when the people of each village would slaughter cattle for the winter and throw the bones onto large fires ("bone fire" became "bonfire", the OED says so). Speaking of bonfires, Guy Fawkes Day is Thursday. We decided that burning the Pope in effigy was morally unpalatable, but we did laugh about putting little red shoes on him. Plus, Paul says we can't have a bonfire even though the neighbor lights things on fire in the backyard all the time. Alas, our Bonfire Night celebrations will be lacking a key element this year! Maybe I can scrounge up some Guy Fawkes-appropriate food?