Sunday, 25 December 2011

Recipe Road Test: Delia's Mincemeat Raviolis

On this grey Christmas day in London, I'd like to wish you all a very special day. I hope you enjoy the merriment, company and festivities of the day. We will be cracking open the champagne later to enjoy a Merry Christmas!

Tomorrow I am off to spend the day with my mother in law who will be cooking us a roast dinner (beef, since you ask) with all the trimmings. A proper roast dinner involves a terrific amount of hard work and planning. So I asked whether I should bring the pudding. It turns out no-one is all that keen on Christmas pudding or Christmas cake. And that is pretty damn good, as I didn't plan ahead and make either over a month ago. Instead, I said I'd bring mince pies. Homemade ones.

What was I thinking?! You all know about my fear of baking. I'm just terrible at it. Cakes sag in the middle, muffins are gluey, bread rock hard. It's desperate stuff. My oven and I don't get along. I am fairly sure that it is lying to me about the temperature it is at too.

My very good friend Chris is something of a baking aficionado. He can make cakes, pastries, savouries, cupcakes. The lot. He has patience and care and skill. I asked him how to get out of my mince pie predicament. He put me onto Auntie Delia's recipe for Caramelised Mincemeat Ravioli. The advantages, he said were that firstly the pastry was 'easy' (I was sceptical), but secondly, that it could be made slightly in advance, stored in an airtight container, and grilled with the icing sugar on top when needed. This second advantage sounded good to me.

So, the recipe can be found in 'How To Cook: Book One' but is also currently available at:

My first decision involved the mincemeat. Make my own or buy from the shop? When I looked into what was involved in making my own mincemeat, I was more than a little frightened. One recipe made up three whole pounds of the stuff – what was I going to do with all that mincemeat? Where on earth would I put it??

Again, Chris came to the rescue. He suggested buying a jar of mince and freshening it up. He suggested orange zest or extra dried fruit. I decided to go all out on the booze front (after all, it is Christmas!!). So I took some extra raisins and dried mixed fruit peel and marinated it overnight in a good couple of tablespoons of brandy.

Once marinated, I mixed up in a bowl with my jar of mincemeat. I've told you my secret, but who else is going to know when I serve them up tomorrow?

Now came the truly terrifying part. The pastry.....

Delia recommends keeping the butter as cold as possible by wrapping in foil and refridgerating. So far, so good. Even I can manage that!

Then she recommends sifting flour and salt into a bowl and grating the butter into the flour. Having spoken to my mother in law about pastry making, it appears that the 2 biggest barriers to decent pastry are 1. overworking the pastry and 2. allowing the pastry to become too warm. Clearly, this grating process is to ensure the butter stays as cold as possible for as long as possible whilst increasing the surface area to volume ration enough that combining butter and flour becomes as easy as possible.

My only criticism of the method is putting in all the grated butter in at once. I found the sheer weight of butter started squashing itself down. Instead of fine gratings at the bottom, I ended up with lumps.

My advice therefore, is grate butter a few minutes at a time and mix thoroughly into the flour with a palette knife or spatula before grating again.

The next stage involves adding a small amount of water (2-3 tbsp) to the mixture and starting to work together with palette knife or spatula to bring together. Perhaps my mix was particularly dry, but I needed nearly 6 whole tablespoons of water before any coming together occurred. Delia says more moisture may be needed, but I was disconcerted by needing so much more than the recipe stated. I hoped for the best.....

I managed to get the dough together, then bagged it up and put it in the freezer to chill. I was glad to have got the pastry making stage out of the way and breathed a sigh of relief!

After half and hour (during which I preheated the oven), I retrieved my pastry. Can't say it looked good, but I hoped it would hold together.

I managed to roll out the bottom sheet.

I then laid it out on a baking sheet.

Then it was time to egg wash the pastry.

Next was dotting my mincemeat on the pastry sheet.

Then I had the second pastry sheet to roll out. I will confess this took some repairs!

Eventually I laid my second sheet over the mince and pastry.

Time to squeeze down, shape and use a pastry wheel to cut into individual raviolis.

Then to bake. I have to say I was rather impressed with my results..... Although it won't be until tomorrow when I sprinkle icing sugar and grill to get the caramelised effect will I know whether they truly succeeded or failed.

But not bad so far for a sad failure at baking, eh?

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas entertaining: Slow Cooker Mulled Wine

The days are creeping ever faster towards Christmas, and now we are at the very Eve of the big day, I am getting excited! I love all the joy, kitsch, tomfoolery and fun of Christmas. I see no shame in getting into the spirit of the season. After all, in Narnia under the White Witch the inhabitants bemoaned their luck that it was 'always Winter and never Christmas'! Now that is a fate I wish on no-one. Not even those I actively dislike!

So I wanted to share with you one of my festive favourites. I discovered this little secret just before Christmas 2009. I was having a gathering at my place and I wanted it to be festive, and I'd bought in plenty of food, but I didn't want to be tied to the kitchen all night. So I tried to work out ways to get things done in advance, but also things which could be left to look after themselves.

Mulled wine is such a taste of Christmas. Warming, gently alcoholic, spicy and fruity, it has the flavours of the season and the feeling of the season about it. But when it is your party and it would be rude not to mingle with your guests, you don't need to be slaving over a hot stove making it, do you?

Step in the hero of the hour, the slow cooker. Often the wedding present of a new couple.... or the misguided well meaning present of Christmas past, these really quite useful kitchen gadgets are constantly underestimated and thus are relegated to languishing at the back of a kitchen cupboard.

I can't say I use mine enough. However, it does get SOME use, and I plan to do more with it this Winter. I have already shared with you my Spanish Cocido slow cooker recipe. What I will now share with you isn't complex or very original, but it may just make festive hosting that little bit easier.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas – the best of the festive season to you all. I also wish for the best of everything for you all for 2012.

Slow Cooker Mulled Wine


1 bottle (750ml) red wine
50 ml brandy
2 sticks cinnamon
3 green cardamom pods
2 whole star anise
8 cloves
1 orange quartered then sliced finely – reserve about one eighth whole


Prepare your ingredients.

Put the cloves in the eighth of the orange.

Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker. Switch on.

After an hour, enjoy the festive joy of mulled wine with zero huddling over a hot hob. Yay!



Friday, 23 December 2011

Remixing the classics: Maccaflower Cheese

Macaroni Cheese is one of the first dishes I ever learned how to make. Our teacher demonstrated to the whole class in the home ec room how to make the dish one week, so that we would follow and make it the next week. It was a very simple affair, with no flourishes or flavourings, and was an introduction to learning how to cook.

Macaroni Cheese is a classic English comfort supper dish. But these days with all the wonderful food influences we have from round the world, it can seem a little bland. In one of my previous posts I discussed how I was inspired by Dub Reggae to make an alternate version of a dish (see the article here). Well, that has led to a couple of discussions of which other dishes could be 'remixed' or 'mashed up' to make something a little original and a little new.

Recently, on her wonderful show 'Baking Made Easy', Lorraine Pascale (supermodel turned super p√Ętissier) made a highly indulgent Macaroni Cheese, with cream and dolcelatte. It certainly is glam!

My remix involves bringing together Macaroni Cheese with that other British classic; Cauliflower Cheese. Mixing up the pasta with the cauliflower gives 2 different textures to the dish, and means you get a little bit of veg thrown in (perhaps one of your five a day). It also involves using spices to accent the white sauce. And my addiction for using pancetta in nearly everything I make continues. No, I've not gone mad, but a little pancetta here gives a little meatiness and added oomph to a real Winter warmer.

It may be chilly outside, but serve yourself a hot bowl of this and you'll forget all about the cold!

Serves 2 as a main meal


100g pasta (I used fusilli, but macaroni is what you should be using, after all!)
160g cauliflower florets
25g flour
25g butter
350ml milk
100g cheddar cheese, grated
40-50g parmesan, finely grated
¼-½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp paprika
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
80g cubetti de pancetta/bacon lardons (optional)
1-2 tbsp undyed (or homemade) breadcrumbs


  1. Preheat your oven to 175°C if using a fan oven or 195°C if using a non-fan oven.
  2. Put a large saucepan of water on the hob and bring to the boil. If using pancetta or bacon, dry fry in a non-stick pan until just cooked, about 5 mins. Place on a plate and set aside.
  3. My pasta needed 12 mins until al dente. So I put the pasta in the boiling water first. You may as well cook the cauliflower florets with the pasta; it saves energy,. Hassle and washing up. They only need 7 mins. Hence I was able to cook the pasta for 5 mins then added the cauliflower for the remaining 7 minute cooking time. 

  4. Whilst the pasta and cauliflower is cooking, start on your cheesy white sauce. Melt the butter in another pan until liquified. Add the flour. Mix thoroughly.

  5. Keep cooking for about 3 minutes stirring all the time. This stops burning and ensures the flour is properly cooked out.

  6. Now add the milk in a small drizzle at a time. Do not cut corners here. You need to try to prevent getting lumps in the sauce. I use a small whisk to mix the milk in, whisking away to ensure an even consistency before adding more milk. 

  7. When all the milk is incorporated, keep heating and stirring. Now should be around the time you drain the cooked pasta and cauliflower. Put back into the saucepan you cooked them in.
  8. You need to keep cooking the white sauce until it thickens to the consistency of double cream. Add in your ground nutmeg, Dijon mustard and paprika to the white sauce. Stir and take off the heat.
  9. Add 30g parmesan and 65-70g cheddar to the sauce and mix up thoroughly.
  10. Now add the pancetta and bacon to the cooked pasta and cauliflower. Add the cheesy white sauce. Mix thoroughly.

  11. Now transfer into an oven proof dish. Top with the remaining cheddar, parmesan and breadcrumbs.

  12. Put into the oven for 15-20 mins until the cheese has melted and gone golden with touches of brown.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

French Lentil Stew a la Snigdha

Serves 2

4 parsnips
4 large pork sausages cut into quarters
160g green lentils
10 cloves garlic, peeled
400ml hot chicken stock, although you may want to make an extra 100ml just in case (see below)
8 slices bacon/pancetta
5 sprigs thyme (fresh)
2 bay leaves
½ tsp herbes de provence (dried)
3-4 spring onions, cut into rounds
2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Put olive oil in a large frying pan (for which you have the lid) and heat. Add the sausages. Fry them until they just start going brown around the edges, about 5 mins. In another pan, dry fry the bacon until cooked and lightly browned. Put on a plate and set aside.
  2. Add the garlic cloves and cook for another 4 mins.
  3. Add the lentils and stir, heating them up for around 1 minute.
  4. Add the stock, parsnips, bay leaves, thyme and herbes de provence. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Bring to the boil.
  5. Put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down to a low simmer.
  6. Cook for 30 minutes, checking a couple of times close to the end of the cooking time. You may find that the pan gets dry (depending on the height of simmer your hob provides), so add a couple of drizzles of extra stock if necessary.
  7. Add bacon, cook for another 15-20 minutes.
  1. Check the lentils are tender and soft and the parsnips cooked. If not, give them another 5 minutes. When ready, remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
  2. Taste and season as required.

  1. Serve in bowls sprinkled with the spring onion rounds.