#88 Richard Boston’s Guinness Christmas Pudding

The second part of the traditional festivities: a home-made Christmas Pudding. Don’t know why I’m making it as it seems the whole world despises them, including Jane Grigson, herself. But like she says, English Food wouldn’t be a book on English Food without it included. It’s very easy to make, but requires a huge amount of steaming time; you have to steam them now, and again on the day. The mixture makes five pints’ worth, so I went for two two-pint basins and a one-pint. I’ve had to do mine in lots rather than all at once, so had to guess at the steaming times a bit, but I’ll talk about that when we get to it…

The recipe is not unlike that for the mincemeat; it’s just a question of mixing everything together in the order given. Use your hands to mix it up – it’s a lot easier than using a wooden spoon. Also, you can’t over-stir it, so get everyone in to give it mix. If I remember rightly, to get good luck, thirteen people have to mix it clockwise with their spoon and make a wish before you steam it (if you believe in that sort of stuff). Dry ingredients first: 10 ounces of fresh breadcrumbs, 8 of soft brown sugar, 8 of currants, 10 of chopped raisins, 8 of sultanas, 2 of dried mixed peel, 10 of shredded suet (the packet kind!), plus ½ teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of mixed spice. Now mix in the grated zest of a lemon, a dessertspoon of lemon juice, 2 large, beaten eggs, ¼ pint of milk and a 300ml bottle of Guinness. Divide this between your pudding basins, that have been well-buttered (I’ve bought some of those plastic ones with proper lids so you don’t to bother with foil tops covered with tea towels, etc.). Add a sixpence if you want. Now for the first steaming…If you can fit them in one, then steam for 7 ½ hours – yes you heard me – SEVEN-AND-A-HALF!! If not, a bit of guess-work is required – did the 2 pint ones for four hours, and the 1 pint for three. Don’t know if it’s worked, we will just have to find out on Christmas Day! To store them, either keep them covered in a cool place or freeze them.

Before steaming.

Yes I know they look bad in this state,

but they looked like proper puds when I’d done cooking ’em.

FYI: like mincemeat, the Christmas Pud was created as way of preserving meat, and the earliest recipe goes back to 1420, but it wasn’t until the Victorians turned it into a proper dessert, did it become the familiar round shape topped with brandt butter, holly and flaming brandy. The stirring and steaming, traditionally occurred on ‘Stir-Up Sunday’, which was the first Sunday of Advent.

BTW in case you were wondering, Richard Boston was a food writer for The Guardian newspaper.

#87 Mrs Beeton’s Traditional Mincemeat

Christmas is coming, and I am going traditional on your ass. First thing to be made is Mrs Beeton’s Traditional Mincemeat. According to Griggers it is better than any modern mincemeat. The main difference is that there is proper fresh suet and actual meat in it. She reckons that when she makes this recipe, the mince pies get eaten double-quick. Well we’ll see. Getting hold of fresh suet is easy, the butcher in Levenshulme sold me 2 and-a-half pounds of it for only a quid! Bargain! Also, I got the chance to use the mincer attachment for my Kitchen Aid for the first time; it was very good, and now I intend to mince everything. I like a good mince, I do (but you probably knew that already…). I haven’t had the chance to eat any yet, but it’s very easy to make, as long as you have the ability to stir.

The amounts are quite big in the recipe, so I’m giving you what I did which is half of Good Lady Beeton’s instructions:

Mix together 8 ounces of seedless raisins, 12 ounces of currants, 6 ounces of minced, lean rump steak, 12 ounces of fresh, chopped suet, 8 ounces of dark brown sugar, 1 ½ ounces of dried mixed peel, ¼ grated nutmeg, 12 ounces of apples that have been peeled, cored, and grated and the zest and juice of half a lemon. When all has been incorporated, mix in 2 ½ fluid ounces of brandy. Spoon the mincemeat into sterilized jars. (To sterilise jars, place jars and lids in oven set to 110°C for 35 minutes). This recipe made enough for four big jars. Leave for at least two weeks…

FYI: Mincemeat recipes go back as far as the Fifteenth Century, and pretty much any meat was used for mincemeat – Sixteenth Century recipes use heart or mutton and bone marrow instead of suet. It’s probably one of the few surviving Elizabethan dishes still made today.

…to be continued.

#86 Walnut Cake

We all went up to Cumbria to visit Frances and James last weekend. It was also Dean’s birthday, so I thought I’d make a cake. On asking him what cake he’d like, he said ‘anything, as long as it’s not from that bloody book of yours’. Well that’s just lovely, isn’t it? I think he’s expecting brains and gonads in every recipe. After giving many alternative suggestions and turning them down, he eventually went for a walnut cake. Where did I find a recipe? You know! It’s a good cake too, for a walnut cake – the icing is a complete faff though. If you can’t be bothered to do the icing, do butter cream instead.

For the cake:
Cream together 5 ounces of butter with 6 ounces of sugar; beat in 2 beaten eggs, then 8 ounces of sifted self-raising flour, 3 ounces of coarsely chopped walnuts and 4 dessertspoons of milk. Lastly, add half a teaspoon of vanilla essence (or use vanilla sugar instead of normal sugar). Line an 8 inch cake tin, add the mixture and bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hours at 180°C. Test with a skewer, and when ready turn out onto a cake rack and allow to cool.

For the icing:
A bit tricky this bit…Stir a ¼ of a pint of water and a pound of sugar lumps in a pan under a low heat until the sugar gas dissolved. Raise the heat and add a generous pinch of cream of tartar. Boil the syrup until it has reached the soft-ball stage which is 120°C; easy if you have a sugar thermometer, which I don’t. Alternatively, as it boils, carefully remove a teaspoon-full of syrup and drop it into small cold water. Fish out the blob of sugar, and if it is soft but can form a ball between your fingers, you are done. You mustn’t stir the syrup as it boils; this reduces the temperature, causing the sugar to crystallise, resulting in total disaster. It takes a few minutes, so in the meantime, whisk two egg whites until stiff in an electric mixer, and when the syrup is ready pour it into the egg whites with the electric mixer on full-whack. Keep mixing until it has nearly set and then add a teaspoon of vanilla essence. You should have a lovely smooth meringue icing. Spread this over the cooled cake with a palette knife and decorate with some walnut halves.

It is very important to wait until the icing has nearly set – I didn’t and it went everywhere!

Not a wedding hat, but in fact, a cake.

#86 Walnut Cake – 6.5/10. Certainly an above-average cake as far as walnut cakes go. Not normally a big fan really. I think it may have been nicer with some coffee-flavoured butter cream instead of the posh icing, but that’s just me.

#85 Caramelised Cox’s Orange Pippins

I wanted to do a quick and easy dessert for when Paddy came round and didn’t really have time for baking or anything requiring too much time or effort, being the busy bee that I am. (#85) Caramelised Cox’s Orange Pippins fit the bill perfectly; a hot dessert that can be made in 5 minutes. That’s what we like.

I love Cox’s Orange Pippins; they’re my second favourite apple after the russet. You can’t beat an English apple in autumn. I don’t really buy them the rest of the year when they’re not in season and all you can buy are shipped over from France or whatever. I think they’ve had a resurgence over the last couple of years as I’ve spotted both varieties in supermarkets. If you can’t get hold of Cox’s Orange Pippins, I suppose you could use any eating apple, but these are the best eaters for cooking with.

Peel and core one apple per person top and tail them and cut into three thickish rounds. Fry the apples on a low to medium heat in butter until they start picking up a faint golden colour. Whilst that’s happening make some cinnamon sugar; one tablespoon of sugar to one teaspoon of cinnamon. I found that this was enough for two apples, but you put on whatever amount you like. When the apples are ready, sprinkle over the sugar. Keep the apples turning over every 30 seconds or so and you should magically end up with a nice sweet glaze covering them. It’s important not to have the heat too high, so be careful. Serve them immediately with a dollop of clotted cream. Piece of piss!

#85 Caramelised Cox’s Orange Pippins: 8/10. Sweet, sticky, fattening and delicious. Also, it’s one of your five fresh fruit and veg portions for the day. It’s a no-lose situation. Bravo Griggers; you’ve done it again, lady!

#84 Shepherd’s Pie

The second of the classics I’m trying to work through. Spoilt for choice for the next one. Thinking maybe a Lancashire Hotpot. Any suggestions, let me know. Anyways, my old mate Paddy was staying over, and he asked for a Shepherd’s Pie, and a Shepherd’s Pie, he got. According to Grigson, you can use either lamb or beef – I always thought that a Shepherd’s Pie contained lamb and a Cottage Pie had beef. We went for beef on Paddy’s request, as it’s the least fatty. One ingredient I found though – white wine. Never heard of that in a Shepherd’s pie, and I must admit I had reservations.

Chop a large onion and three cloves of garlic and stew them until soft in 3 tablespoons of oil. Raise the heat under the hob and add a pound of minced beef (or lamb), stir until browned. Next add a tablespoon of tomato puree, a ¼ of a pint of white wine, and ¼ of a pint of beef stock, keeping a few tablespoons in reserve. Slake 3 heaped teaspoons of cornflour in the reserved stock and add this to the beef. Season well with salt, and very well with pepper. I don’t understand it when people say that they don’t add salt when they’re cooking; it just all tastes so bland. Plus I don’t add anywhere near as must as the pre-made supermarket meals. Rant over. Simmer this for about 10 minutes and spoon off any surplus fat. Whilst simmering, boil 2 to 2 ½ pounds of potatoes (Grigson says boil them in their skins, but I skim-read the recipe and didn’t spot that sentence and peeled mine). Mash the spuds with 3 ounces of butter and up to ½ pint of milk (depending upon how sloppy you like it). Season the potato well too, readers. Pour the meat into a casserole dish and pile on the potatoes. Run a fork through the top so as to add texture to the spuds and so they crisp up nicely. Sprinkle over an ounce of grated Cheddar and a tablespoon of grated Parmesan. Bake for 10 minutes at 200ºC, and then turn the oven down to 180ºC and bake for a further 45 minutes.


#84 Shepherd’s Pie 8.5/10. The secret ingredient of a Shepherd’s Pie, it seems, is white wine. It enriches the whole thing without making it too rich, as red wine would do. It’s a bit frivolous, I know, but you could swap the wine for more stock if you liked.

#83 Almond Fingers

The almond finger. A Mr Kipling favourite I think. I recently decided, since there is no such thing as a bad cake, that if I am to avoid a severe sugar and carbohydrate addiction that I should never buy a cake again; if I want one, I’ll just have to bloody-well bake one meself. I remember liking these as a student, and my Mum used to make them when I was little, so I thought I’d give Grigger’s recipe a go. Griggers reckons that the difference between the flavour of the commercial ones and the home-made. Also, I was off to my mate Stuarty’s flat, and thought it would be nice to bring round something home-baked. People don’t do that kind of thing these days do they? We had a grand old night playing Guitar Hero and getting sloshed.

The recipe is in two stages: First of all you need to make a sweet pastry for the base. Cream together 4 ounces of softened butter and 3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar. Next, beat in an egg, then a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 8 ounces of plain flour. Wrap the pastry in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for an hour, or the freezer for 20 minutes if rushed for time, as I was. Roll out the pastry into a lined 7 x 11 inch Swiss roll tin. Don’t worry if it breaks up – sugary pastry always does – just fill in any holes with spare bits. Lastly, spread a thin layer of apricot jam over the pastry and phase one is complete!

Now make the filling: Cream together 5 ounces of softened butter with the same weight of vanilla sugar (make your own), beat in 2 eggs, then a heaped tablespoon of flour, 4 ounces of ground almonds and lastly, 2 tablespoons of dark rum. Spread this evenly over the sweet pastry and sprinkle over 2 ounces of slivered almonds. Bake at 180ºC for 35-40 minutes.

#83 Almond Fingers. 7.5/10. Jane was right; much better than any bought nonsense. The whole remains very moist, almost like a cookie. I feel that I was a bit too tipsy to appreciate it, I hear Stuart was still eating them a couple of days after, so they can’t have been bad.

#82 Toad-in-the-Hole

Very sorry for the recent few weeks being blog-lite. However folks, this doesn’t mean I’ve not been cooking, just been rather busy with work, plus I have become rather a social butterfly of late. Anyways, I have decided to go through the book and do some of the proper classics. So first up is (#82) Toad-in-the-Hole. I do love it. You have to make sure you get decent sausages. I was mant to get mine from the butchers in Levenshulme or Chorlton, but ran out of time as I worked late, and had to go to blinking Asda. However, did find some organic pork sausages in natural casing, which were very good. Didn’t think I’d be recommending Asda on here, bearing in mind their animal-rights record. I cooked it for John, who – shock horror – had never had it before! That’s the Irish for you.

Makes four servings:

First of all make some Yorkshire pudding batter. I usually do this by eye, but followed Grigger’s measurements which do turn out well. Mix 8 ounces of plain flour with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and break 3 eggs into it. Make up a pint of half-milk, half-water and add about a third of it to the flour and eggs. Whisk this into a thick paste – adding only some of the liquid at the beginning should prevent lumps. Keep adding the liquid until the batter is the consistency of double cream. Leave to rest.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220ºC and then brown a pound of sausages in an ounce of lard in a frying pan; you’re not cooking them through, just getting two decent brown stripes along their lengths. Strain the fat into a large roasting pan and pour a thin layer of batter and bake in the oven until set – about 5 minutes. Place the sausages on top of the set batter and pour over the rest. Bake for 35 minutes. The batter should rise up and be a nice golden brown. Serve with some veg and onion gravy.

#82 Toad-in-the-Hole: 9/10. I love this kind of food. Can’t go wrong with this kind of food. If for some reason you have never had it before, simply go and make it right now. You have a recipe. It’s very easy. The only thing I ask is that you buy good sausages and make onion gravy to go with it, otherwise it’s just not the same.

#81 Northumbrian Wholemeal Scones

Another venture into yeast cookery. This one uses fresh yeast; a new one on me. It’s much better than the dried stuff. Also, I have a giant bag of stone-ground flour left over from Doris Grant’s Loaf the other month, and what with the credit crunch and the whole of the Western World going into liquidisation, it’s best I try to be a bit frugal. Also, I have finished the no carb diet I was on, and so the other reason I went for this recipe is that it uses proper organic brown flour with all the bits and wheatgerm and everything inside, and that must be better than white bread. In fact, my house is a white carb-free zone from now on (unless it’s in a recipe for the blog, natch). Oh, I bought the yeast from the Barbakan deli in Chorlton – an excellent bakery, probably the best in Manchester – for only 20p per 100 grams. I thought I may as well use what the best use. I hear that supermarkets with bakeries within will give you it for free.

I have no idea what make these scones particularly Northumbrian. Ideas anyone?

Here’s what to do…

Makes about 12 scones.

Mix 1 ½ pounds of stone-ground wholemeal flour with a teaspoon of salt, rub in 2 ounces of chilled lard (I used hands here rather than the mixer for a change) and make a well in the middle. Mix ¼ pint of milk with ¼ pint of boiling water and pour about a teacup full of it into dish or small bowl and stir in a tablespoon of golden syrup. Fork in an ounce of fresh yeast into the syrup mixture and allow it to froth up. This is much quicker than the dried stuff, it took only 10 minutes in my cold kitchen! Tip it into the flour along with the rest of the water-milk mixture. Be careful though, don’t add it all at once; you need a ‘soft but not sloppy dough’ says Griggers. I actually needed a little more. Put some clingfilm over the top of the bowl so it doesn’t dry out and let the Sacchromyces do its work until the dough as doubled in size. Roll out the dough, keeping it fairly thick, and cut out rounds with a scone cutter. Place scones on a baking tray, cover again and allow to prove. When they’ve risen again, brush them with milk and bake for 15-20 minutes at 220ºC.

#81 Northumbrian Wholemeal Scones – 7/10. Griggers suggests eating them hot with butter and honey. And so right she is. Bloody marvellous. They are just as good as normal scones. They’re not sweet, but a lovely malty flavour instead. I also had some the next day for a quick tea – split two and grilled them with cheese on. I’ve frozen the rest to keep me in a constant supply.

#80 Oxtail Soup

My favourite soup; at least when it comes to tinned Heinz variety. I have made it before, but it was quite an elaborate recipe with loads of ingredients. This one is more basic. It is very tasty, but heed Jane’s advice: don’t buy a skinny little oxtail. I asked for the biggest one they had. However, if you are not reasonably surprised by the size of your butcher’s oxtail, err on the side of caution and buy two. I didn’t do that, and so the flavour was perhaps not as rich as it could have been. It was remedied however, by adding some of that beef stock concentrate, but I did feel like a bit of a cheat! Ask the butcher to chop up the tail and trim the fat off.

I got the oxtails from W H Frost in Chorlton – a very good butcher. I chatted to the man briefly and he mentioned that he could pretty much get anything I want in as long as I order it in plenty of time. Good man! The butcher in Levenshulme is good for the basics, but it’s nice to see there’s somewhere I can get the weird and (not so) wonderful stuff.

I would recommend to giving it a try. If you’re not used to strange cuts or offal, then this is the place to start. It’s not particularly gory and the meat is pleasantly beefy. However, you need to start it the day before you want to eat it.

From this….

…to this!

The day before:
Start off by removing any surplus fat from the tail that the butcher didn’t quite get rid of. Chop three stalks of celery, stud an onion with three cloves and slice a small turnip and a carrot. Next, melt 2 ounces of butter in a large pan and brown the meat and vegetables. This takes about 10 minutes as there’s quite a lot of stuff in the pan. Don’t be coy; have the heat quite high, as you don’t want the vegetables to stew. Give a stir now and again. Meanwhile make a bouquet garni – I used 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme some parsley stalk (all fresh, but kept in the freezer). When sufficiently browned, add the bouquet along with 4 pints of water and a teaspoon of peppercorns and season with salt. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently until the meat is coming away from the bones. This took around four hours. Strain the beefy stock you have created into a bowl and allow to cool. You can discard the veg, but I ate them! The final job is to pick the meat from the bones and plop the meaty chunks back into the soup. Refrigerate the soup over night.

On the day:
Much easier! You’ve done the hard work. Using a spoon, skim off the fat that has risen to the surface and solidified. Reheat the soup to simmering point and add 5 tablespoons of port. This makes all the difference. Don’t dare miss it out. Check the seasoning, you can be pretty bold I reckon. If it is not beefy enough, cheat as I did and add a small amount of stock concentrate.

#80 Oxtail Soup – 7.5/10. Even though I cheated, it is still a beautiful soup. The simple combination of a well-flavoured stock, chunky beef and the sweet port wine is addictive!

#79 Carrot and Hazelnut Cake

Right. I promise that October shall be much more eventful in the world of The Grigson than September. It was my turn to do the cake for Evolution Group at University, so I’ve been given a good kick up the arse.

A favourite of the group is carrot cake, and there is a recipe in English Food – though it’s very different to the American carrot cake. It’s made without using fat, like a Genoese spoge to make it light and has the added bonus of having hazelnuts in it. Couldn’t resist not sandwiching it with American-style cream cheese filling.

FYI: Carrots have been used for desserts quite a lot in England. Mrs. Beeton had a sweet, chewy carrot tart in her book; it was revived as mock apricot tart during rationing in the Second World War, if I remember rightly (not that I was in WWII, you understand).

Separate four eggs and add to the yolks to the bowl of a food mixer along with 4 ounces of caster sugar. Whisk them together until pale and frothy. This takes a while so meanwhile finely grate 4 ounces of carrots and blitz 2 ounces of toasted hazelnuts in a food processor (or, heaven-forbid, chop them by hand!). Fold these into the eggy mixture along with 4 ounces of sifted, plain flour. Next, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Slaken the mixture by stirring in a third of the whites and then fold in the rest. Spoon the mixture into two greased and papered 9 inch cake tins and bake at 190ºC for anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes. They’re ready when the sponge springs back pressed lightly. Cool on wire racks.

To make the filling, beat together 8 ounces of full-fat soft cheese with 5 ounces of softened unsalted butter, once incorporated, beat in 4 tablespoons of icing sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Use this to sandwich the cakes together. Dust the whole thing with icing sugar, if you please.

#79 Carrot and Hazelnut Cake – 8/10. A success. Every seemed to like it. Much less dense than a typical carrot cake. I could only have a tiny wee sliver since I’m meant to be on a carb-free week this week, but I had to taste it for the blog, didn’t I!?