At Year's End


Saturday, 31 December 2011

As the year draws to a close there are roses and snowdrops blooming in my garden.

Are the roses late and the snowdrops early, or are the roses early and the snowdrops late? As Tom says, it's all rather confusering.

In the kitchen however, I know where I am. A New Year's Eve feast to prepare. A picnic-style deli feast. I bought olives, hummus, roast peppers, cured meats and pitta bread. I made a lemony feta dip (a block of feta, juice and zest of a lemon, clove of garlic, glug of olive oil all processed together) flatbread, and some salted almonds.

And  piles of meringues and chocolate-ginger biscuit cake.

Before I go here is December's sampler

and a round-up of the past year here at The quince Tree

Have a very Happy New Year!

Cheese Biscuits


Friday, 30 December 2011

Yes, I know they look like scones. But these are American biscuits. 
American biscuits are made by rubbing fat into a mixture flour and baking powder, then adding milk or buttermilk to form a dough. they are cut into rounds and baked hot and quick. 
Sound like scones to me.

Yet, I have seen American scone recipes, they seem richer and more complicated than ours and always seem to be cut into triangles or wedges. Triangles were once traditional here, economical too as you don't waste any dough by cutting a round into farls, but to most Brits a scone is plain, round, and about 2-3 inches in diameter. Sometimes we add dried fruit to them and sometimes we add grated cheese.

These cheese biscuits are from the wonderful cookery blog Alexandra's Kitchen.
They were very easy to make, just like scones really. The measurements were a bit strange; 3 and a half cups of flour minus 1 teaspoon, and 9 tablespoons of butter plus 1 teaspoon. The results were very good though.

Here's the recipe as I made it Britished-up for you 

Big Cheese Scones

makes 10-12

1 lb 3 oz (540g) plain flour
2 tablespoons of baking powder
2 teaspoons of salt
4½ oz (125g) salted butter cut into chunks 
2 big handfuls of grated cheddar
2 x 10 fl oz (284ml) cartons of buttermilk (I would think plain yogurt would work just as well)
1 beaten egg

Put the first three ingredients in a bowl and chill for half an hour in the fridge. While that's happening take the butter out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. I'm not sure how much difference doing this made to the finished scones but I did it anyway.

Next combine the butter and cheese with the dry ingredients.
The recipe requires you to use a stand-mixer with a paddle to do this. I don't have one so I used a hand mixer to get the lumps of butter as small as large peas. I ended up finishing the job with my fingers. I think the idea is to avoid handling the mixture too much with warm hands.

Next add the buttermilk and combine to make a dough.
Pat the dough out about an inch thick on a floured surface and cut out rounds using a 3 inch cutter. Do not twist the cutter as this prevents them scones from rising well.
Place the rounds of dough on two lined/greased baking trays.
Brush with beaten egg. Don't skip this step as it does make the finished scones look beautiful.
Bake at 200ºc/180ºc fan oven for 20 mins swapping the trays round after 10 mins.

Eat warm with soup and stews or use for sandwiches.

The Quince Tree at Christmas


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

On Christmas Eve after boiling and baking a ham, making 4 dozen sausage rolls, another batch of florentines, an orange jelly, a trifle (including two lots of custard), and griddling chicken for supper I decided that Danish Christmas rice pudding with cranberry compote and Cranberry buttermilk breakfast cake could go hang. 
They may or may not make an appearance over the next week or two.

Christmas Successes

~ Mincemeat sauce for ice cream (pictured above). I was very pleased with this quick improvised pud.
Half a jar of mincemeat, a spoonful of soft brown sugar, a knob of butter, a slug of rum and the juice of an orange heated in a small pan and poured hot over ice cream.

~ My mum was very pleased with her Christmas selection box and promptly told my dad he couldn't have any.

~ A harmonica makes a good stocking filler for a musical teenager.

~ Although horrendously expensive, a Superdry coat for an 11 year old girl is worth it because it means she now actually wears a coat when she goes outside.

Christmas Fails

~ My mum's sprouts. Sorry mum, but you know they aren't supposed to be yellow. The rest of Christmas lunch was extremely delicious though.

~ Going to watch the match by way of the pub first and the players' bar afterwards results in falling through the front door completely rat-arsed and your wife throwing your tea in the bin.
'Is dad drunk? '
'How long does drunkyness last?'
'Oh, I think I'll be reminding him of this one for a long, long time'



Friday, 23 December 2011

I'm embracing the cranberry this Christmas.  A cranberry is not just for Christmas though.
Diana Henry in her fabulous book Roast Figs Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul says;
 'We could do with the cranberry's tartness and piercing colour right into the spring, and they'll certainly keep that long, providing stunning sorbets and bringing bursts of flavour and brightness to crumbles, cobblers, bread-and-butter puddings, tarts, cakes and compotes (they are spectacular poached gently in a sugar syrup and mixed with slices of blood orange), right until the end of March.'
Lots of good ideas there, one of the things I love about Diana Henry is that as well as recipes she provides lots of ideas which is great for cooks like me who like to make it up as they go along.

I've already made some cranberry sauce so that we can have it in our turkey sandwiches on Christmas evening. We are going to my parents' for Christmas lunch and I'm hoping mum will provide me with some leftovers. It's the first time in about 15 years that I haven't done lunch. I'm quite relieved not to be doing it this year; remember what happened last year?. Basting one's foot with goose fat is not a good idea. Don't do it.

For our Christmas Eve pudding I am going to make Danish Christmas rice pudding with cranberry compote and almonds from Roast Figs Sugar Snow.

For breakfast on Christmas Day I am going to make cranberry buttermilk breakfast cake. Doesn't it look good? Yes, I know I dismissed special Christmas breakfasts as 'nonsense' last year, but what with not having a turkey to cook this year I though 'why not?'. The batter can be made the night before and baked in the morning while you apply yourself to unwrapping presents.

We have family coming for Boxing Day, and to drink I'm going to make a large jug of poinsettia from Nigella Christmas which is sparkling wine, grand marnier and cranberry juice.
For the non-drinkers, which now I come to think of it will probably be everyone except me, I'm making Nigella's mistletoe which is ginger beer and lime cordial.

I'm having a short break from posting, just a little one, I'll be back with pictures of food next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Merry Christmas to all my readers. 
Thank you for reading and commenting I really appreciate it.
A carol from our lovely cathedral from me to you.

This Midwinter


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

This Midwinter there is heat but no snow.
Last Midwinter there was snow but no heat.

This Midwinter, like last Midwinter there is damson gin and quince vodka.

This Midwinter there are Sweet Bells and  A Christmas Carol.

This Midwinter there is chorizo and bean stew for supper.

This Midwinter there is the scent of pine in the air.

Christmas Selection Box


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

In my selection box I have florentines.

 The white chocolate ones have candied cherries and peel, almonds and walnuts.

And the dark chocolate ones have candied ginger, apricots, and almonds.

These are cranberry and white chocolate cookies adapted slightly from Nigella Christmas.

And these are chocolate mint biscuits. Made using my favourite biscuit recipe - fork biscuits from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book. I added peppermint extract, made them a little smaller and thinner than usual, and coated them with chocolate.

A present for somebody.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Sparkly twinklemas

Spangly festivus

Glitteration and tinsellation

Magical winterness

Jolly jinglement

Happy enjoyness*


*these two courtesy of Tom

Mince Pies


Friday, 16 December 2011

Time to make mince pies.
I've never bought one but I have sampled a few commercial mince pies. They are a completely different beast to the homemade pie. The commercial pies I have eaten have been overwhelmingly sweet, the mincemeat too runny and syrupy, oozing all over your fingers as you eat; the pastry sweet and powdery, clumping together and sticking itself to the roof of your mouth, and invariably they are too deep making the sweetness even harder to deal with.

I like my mince pies simple and unpretentious. I don't want a 'twist' on the traditional pie. No meringue or frangipane on top, no marzipan or rum butter inside, no fancy pastry shapes and definitely no low-fat filo pastry nonsense.

I want plain unsweetened shortcrust pastry and I want mincemeat inside and nothing else.
Sometimes I use Delia Smith's quick flaky pastry for mince pies which is very good but this year I'm sticking to shortcrust. I favour half lard and half butter. Butter for flavour and lard for shortness.

If you are tempted to buy ready-made shortcrust pastry may I just say I think you are mad.
Bought pastry is more expensive and not as nice. It's made with vegetable oil not butter so you are paying more for inferior ingredients. If you think it will save you time let me tell you that it takes just ten minutes to make pastry by hand and seconds to do it in a food processor. You can make lots at the same time and freeze it. 

Here I have 1 lb of plain flour, 4 oz lard and 4 oz butter.

Rub it together until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Add 4-5 tablespoons of cold water, bring together to form a dough. You are supposed to refrigerate it for half an hour or so before rolling but I find it much more manageable to roll it out straight away.

Use a bun tin not a muffin tin. Grease the holes lightly first.
Do not overfill -a scant tablespoon should do it.
Snip a steam-hole.

I don't worry much about how they look.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden in a hot oven 200ºc/180ºc fan oven

I made a dozen quincemeat pies and a dozen ordinary mince pies.
The quincemeat was good but not better than ordinary mincemeat.

I had a go at real mincemeat last year, the kind with minced beef in as was traditional once upon a time. The suet survives to remind us of mincemeat's meaty past. The real mincemeat was nice, it is true you cannot taste the meat in it. So why bother putting it in? It seems such a waste of meat to me. Better in your bolognese.

The trouble with very short shortcrust is that it does tend to break easily. Particularly when you are trying to photograph a half-eaten pie in front of your festive holly.


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