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The world’s best home made mince pies

Summer Christmas for us in New Zealand! The weather has been lovely, although a summer Christmas still seems SO wrong. However, I’m not going to allow the thermometer to dictate my festive foods. My brother has come out for a visit with his family, so we have a great reason to cook up a storm. They’ve been here two days and so far we’ve baked Gingerbread Christmas stars for the kids to decorate, easy banana muffins, eaten a lot of my traditional Christmas cake and some mince pies. Actually, rather a lot of mince pies. And they are amazing! This is not an exaggeration. My brother, who is a mince pie connoisseur, has rated these as the best ever. Considering he’s had our Gran’s incredibly yummy ones, and some also seriously posh British ones (from whence these originate), he is well placed to judge.

Some people like flaky mince pie pastry cases (eeurgh) and the people with really good taste prefer a good, short, crumbly sweet shortcrust. I’m sure you can tell which camp I fall into.

The filling I made using a recipe, highly recommended by a friend, from stuff.co.nz and includes figs, ginger and chocolate. Good mix. Great mix actually. I’m never making plain sultana mince ever again. Ideally you want to make this a couple of months before making the mince pies. For the pastry I combined a couple of recipes to make a short sweet pastry that I liked. I baked mine in small catering foil pastry cases because they help my pastry cases get nice and crisp. However, you can use a muffin tin for small muffins, simply don’t use the full height of the muffin holes. Christmas Mince Pies

The Fig, Ginger and Chocolate Mince Filling

Ingredients:

3 cups packed dried figs
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup crystallised ginger
150g dark chocolate
1 apple, peeled and grated
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup brandy

Method:

Chuck everything apart from the brandy and sugar into your food processor and roughly chop. Mix through the sugar and brandy.

Cover and leave in a cool place for two days, stirring occasionally.

Pack into two large sterilised jars and seal well. Leave to mature for at least 1 month before using.

Sweet shortcrust pastry (for approx 36 pies)

Ingredients:

450g cold butter cut into cubes
700g plain flour
200g golden caster sugar
1 jar of your mince meat
2 small eggs
around 4 tablespoons of cold water

Method:

Cut the butter into the flour. Try and use a pastry cutter if you can to keep the butter from melting. If you don’t have one, use a sturdy fork, or rub it in with your hands. Once the butter and flour mix resembles fine bread crumbs, stir in the sugar. Using a spoon, quickly stir through the eggs, and use a teeny amount of water to bind the pastry dough together. You are looking for a fairly dry and crumbly mix that only just holds itself together. I used 4 tablespoons of water today, but this can vary. Add a tablespoon at a time and see how you go. If you add too much, the dough will get sticky and be useless.

Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (fan). Roll the pastry out to approximately 3mm thickness. You want the pastry to be quite thin if you can manage it. Cut rounds slightly bigger than your  muffin tin openings so that you can form the base and sides of the pastry bases. Fill these 2/3rds full with your mincemeat. Cut a smaller round or a shape to top off the pie. If you use a solid circle for the topping, don’t forget to poke a cross with a knife to let the steam out. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Once cooled on a cooling rack, top with sprinkled icing sugar.

If you want to freeze these, do so before baking them.

 

 

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Delicious Coconut Lime Chicken

While those of you stuck in the northern hemisphere are preparing all sorts of comforting, warming treats for your cold Christmas season, those of us down south are sweltering and on the hunt for light and refreshing meals. I am absolutely missing the cold and misery and snow that makes Christmas so wonderful. A hot and summery Christmas just seems so wrong somehow, even though I spent 26 years growing up in South Africa with hot Christmas days. My six years in the UK taught me one thing. Christmas is MADE for cold weather! All those lovely warm wintery spices…..yummy! They just don’t work quite as well in summer. And while I’m resigning myself to a truly lovely Christmas day spent having a fresh fish barbecue on the beach, my heart will really be with friends and family thousands of miles north and 12+ hours behind us, enjoying a truly festive meal. Enjoy it everyone, I will be wishing I could join you all!

But back to the truly dreadful weather down here in Auckland. Its been an absolutely perfect 21-24 degrees with nary a drop of rain ALL week. Its been quite depressing stuck in the office on these perfect days, but thankfully the weekend is here again. I will be making an excuse to work a few days a week from our office on the north shore over the next few weeks, just so that I can enjoy the sea view and lunchtime beach runs on offer there. I feel like a total slob when I work there. Virtually all of my colleagues based in the enviable beach office run/walk/cycle or kayak in to work. Then they all go for a lunchtime run, followed by a 500m swim out to the bouy in the bay and back again. Then its a race up the two flights of stairs to nab the shower with the best water pressure and back to the grindstone. What an awful place to work. I don’t know how I cope at times!

Needless to say, such exertions require some calories, and one of my favourite summertime dinners is this sublime coconut and lime chicken. Its essentially a mild thai curry and really delicious. You can add loads of veggies, and serve on rice, couscous or quinoa. It works particularly well with sweet peppers or brocolli. You can use chicken breast, but this is absolutely heavenly (and unfortunately marginally less fabulous for the waistline) made with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I searched Pinterest (as you do) for the perfect recipe, and although I kept finding some fabulous PHOTOS of this dish, nobody seemed to have the smarts to post a link to the actual blog! Much searching later, I found the original coconut lime chicken recipe, and what a fabulous recipe it is too. Don’t read the My Kitchen Escapades Blog too much, because you’ll never leave your kitchen, her recipes are amazing! 😉

Coconut Lime chickenIf you have the time, leave this to marinade overnight and take the time to really reduce the sauce by simmering gently until you get a lovely thick, oozy curry sauce. That said, its also delicious with an hour of marinading and is ready to eat before your rice has a chance of cooking.

Ingredients (To serve 2 adults and 2 smallish kids):

  • 8-10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 standard tin of coconut milk
  • 2 limes
  • 1 and half teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons reduced salt soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mild curry powder (I use garam masala)
  • A pinch of smoked paprika
  • 1 red chili, chopped
  • a big handful of fresh coriander leaves (cilantro for those of you in the USofA)
  • Chopped/sliced veggies of choice.

Method:

  1. Chop the chicken thighs into 3 or 4 pieces each
  2. In a large Tupperware with a tight sealing lid mix the coconut milk, the zest and juice from one of the limes, the coriander, soy sauce, sugar, curry, paprika and chili
  3. Add the chicken pieces, seal the Tupperware and give it a good shake. Leave for anything from an hour to a day IN THE FRIDGE, shaking when you can. The longer this marinades, the better, although obviously don’t leave it so long that it goes all dodgy. Don’t be like a friend who left this on the counter all day on a 35 degree C day (that’s like 98 in F I think). She wondered why it smelt a bit dodgy afterwards. Hmmmm.
  4. When you’re starting to get hungry, get your rice on the go, oil and heat up your grill pan to medium. Drain the chicken pieces, retaining the coconut sauce.
  5. Grill those chicken pieces, adding the veggies when they’re virtually done. Saute the veggies for a minute, then add the coconut sauce to the grill pan and simmer until the sauce thickens up a bit. Season to taste.
  6. To serve, spoon over the rice, and THE most important part, squeeze over some fresh lime juice from the remaining lime and add lots and lots of fresh coriander leaves. Sublime. Best enjoyed al fresco with some chilled white wine.

Just a note here, you can add as much or as little chili as you like. I leave it out entirely for some people who don’t like spicy food and add loads extra when serving for my hubby who enjoys his “Thai Hot!”

 


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Honey and mustard chicken with tarragon

WOW, over a month since my last post!!! Huge apologies everyone. To be honest, I’ve been struggling to find the time to even cook, never mind photograph my meals and write about them.

Our household has been incredibly busy and topsy-turvy this last month. Just before Christmas, our visa for New Zealand was approved and we decided to pack up and go as quickly as was humanely possible. We are off in less than a month now, and still need to clean all our camping gear, road bikes, hiking boots, get rid of clutter and prepare the house for the packers who arrive in just 2 weeks today…AARRGGHHHH!!!! After that, we are heading over to France on a road trip to visit friends and enjoy a last week of European skiing. I can’t wait. I’m absolutely rubbish at skiing, but I enjoy every second of it. Fortunately after years of face plants onto tarmac while wearing skates in my youth and from the back of a horse over jumps (onto grass luckily) I have a disturbing lack of fear of falling onto snow or ice, which probably helps a little.

My most exciting kitchen news was that…………………..(no, sorry no Kitchen Aid stand mixer, yet)……………….I finally finally got a couple of Le Creuset enamelled cast iron pots. My beloved deep, slope sided frying pan (its not really a wok) finally gave up the ghost after 6 years of loyal, almost daily use. It wasn’t the fanciest pan to begin with and has been heavily abused by me and a number of house guests over the years. I decided to replace it with something a little more exciting (and pretty) and persuaded my long suffering spouse that I want NEED cast iron of the enamelled kind. He nearly baulked at the price, but I was very persuasive. I am now the proud owner of a Le Creuset large shallow casserole, and large oval deep casserole pot. Needless to say I spent many days in discussion with my trusted chefy friend L making my selection.

SnowTo christen the shallow casserole, to provide some comfort from the recent snow, and as a stress relief from all the packing I made some roasted honey and mustard chicken pieces with tarragon. The tarragon is optional, but I like how just a little breaks the honey mustard taste a little. I added some veg to mine, and we ate it served with rice. It will work just as well with mashed potato, or couscous though. You can use smooth mustard of any variety (I recommend against the radioactive yellow American style hotdog mustard though, sorry USA bloggers), but whole grain is fabulous. If you are in the UK, DO try this with Tracklement’s Beer Mustard. You will love me (and them) forever.

Honey Mustard ChickenIngredients (serves 2 adults and 2 hungry kids):

One onion, finely chopped

6 crushed/chopped garlic cloves

A large heaped tablespoon of whole grain mustard.

Two tablespoons of runny honey

4-6 chicken leg/thigh pieces, skin and bone intact

2 cups of assorted chopped veg (I used diced carrot and courgette)

Pinch of dried tarragon (or a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh will be great)

Half cup of boiling water.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C

Saute the onion in an oven proof pot, before covering and leaving to sweat gently for 10 minutes until soft.

While the onion is sweating, mix the honey, mustard and tarragon together, and use it to coat the chicken pieces.

Add the garlic to the onion and lightly cook a little more.

Remove the onion/garlic from the pan, turn up the heat and brown those chicken pieces. They don’t need much because you will be using the oven to crisp them up later.

Return the onion and garlic to the pan, add your veg and boiling water.

Put the lid tightly onto the pot, and place in the oven and cook slowly for an hour.

Remove the lid, turn the chicken pieces so they are all skin side up and cook for a further 15 minutes in the oven so that the chicken skin can brown up. This is really easy thanks to the sugar in the honey.

The chicken meat should be moist and tender thanks to the hour of slow steaming in the lidded pot, and you still get the crisp skin, double bonus!

Enjoy served with whatever you like.

 


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Fake Pesto = Popeye Pasta sauce for kids

I love a fresh basil pesto pasta. But basil pesto sort of sucks without the parmesan cheese if you’re dairy free like me. And then, much as I know basil is rammed full of healthy goodness, I’m always quite keen to add a few more veggies into anything I serve up to my kids. Plus some kids seem to hate the taste of basil, unfortunate little souls, and this is a good way to introduce the taste a little more gently. Enter fake pesto sauce. I whipped this up in mere minutes and the kids wolfed it down even more quickly.

I keep vast quantities of this frozen in little cubes in my freezer as a quick pasta sauce for my kids. Its pretty versatile and works brilliantly if you half and half it with a béchamel sauce, stir through some scrummy cheese and shredded chicken or tuna. You can even use it for a pasta bake. Or as a puree for a really small baby, or as a base for a pasta sauce for adults.

Green pasta sauceIngredients:

1/2 a finely chopped onion

A couple of cloves of crushed garlic

2 medium courgette, grated

A large handful fresh spinach (or a few cubes of the chopped frozen variety)

A big sprig of fresh basil leaves (optional if your kids can’t stand it)

Method:

Sweat the onion in a little olive oil in a covered pan until very soft and full of flavour. Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Add the green veg and  cook gently until everything is well softened before blitzing with an immersion blender, liquidiser or food processor.

To freeze, portion out into ice cube trays, cover till cool, then freeze. Once these guys are frozen solid, you can flip them out of the tray into a ziplock bag. They will keep for roughly 3 months in the freezer.


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Fornightly Meal Challenge #4: Sloe Gin Venison Pie

I absolutely love the warm, comforting deliciousness of a decent meat pie on a cold, damp night. On a particularly blustery night, I put together a very special venison pie for one of our holiday dinners. The special ingredient? Sloe Gin! If you don’t know how to make it, check out my handy recipe, so you’re all prepared next year! If you don’t have sloe gin and are desperate for venison pie, never fear, this works very well with lashings of red wine instead.

I’ve found loads of venison pie recipes. I’ve also read that once your sloe gin is ready, the sloes left after decanting go well with venison pie. I’ve never managed to find a recipe for the two together, so decided to try making my own.

The only hot tip when making venison pie is that you must NOT under any circumstances braise/brown the venison. It can make the meat tough and even 12 hours of slow cooking won’t save it. You’ve been warned. To get super melt in the mouth meat, you slow cook this stuff slowly in the sauce. The best method I’ve found is 12 hours in the slow cooker, finished off with an hour in the oven to add some colour before adding that lovely puff pastry topping. My MIL does hers (with kudu and mushrooms) all day in a pressure cooker and it is gorgeous.

While we were away I didn’t have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, so did mine for 8 hours in the oven before adding the pastry. The meat was just as tender, but slightly drier. Clearly slow cooking does keep meat tender and moist. 
I cheated and used ready rolled puff pastry because I’m absolutely rubbish at pastry. I blame my hot hands. You can use any veg but this works best with winter seasonal root veg like carrots, parsnips and Swede. Mushrooms will also work well, but you should probably cook them in butter before adding them.

For the venison, try to get hold of cheap diced meat. The lower legs are fantastic for flavour and the long, gentle cooking really breaks the meat down into meltingly tender and rich tasting pie. This is one of those dishes where it pays to be friendly with your local butcher.

Don’t like pastry? No problem, you can just serve this as a casserole with a root veg and potato mash, dumplings or rice.

Ingredients (for 8 hungry hunters):

800g diced venison off the bone

2 large white onions, chopped

A tablespoon of chopped fresh garlic

Olive oil

A small glass of sloe gin (roughly 125ml)

2 cups (tins/cartons) of chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

large sprig of fresh rosemary

large spring of fresh thyme

A good quality beef or vegetable stock cube

Assorted veg, just use what you have. I had six carrots, four parsnips and a couple of courgettes

250g ready rolled puff pastry, or make your own!

A beaten egg or a couple of tablespoons of milk to wash the pastry

Method:

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C.

Coat the base of a large pan with olive oil and put onto a medium heat.

Saute the chopped onion then cover the pan and turn down the heat to let them sweat until translucent. It should take about 10 minutes. Give the pan a shake now and then so they don’t stick and burn.

Add the garlic and turn up the heat again for one minute. Add the sloe gin and sauté off the onions and garlic for a few more minutes until the sloe gin fumes stop giving off their alcohol fumes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and bring up to a simmer. Add all the other ingredients, top up with some boiling water if necessary (you want everything to be just covered with sauce) and transfer to a covered oven proof dish and pop in the oven. You may need to fiddle with the oven temperature, but you’re looking for this to have a gentle fizzle of bubbles at the edges so that it cooks really slowly. I did mine for eight hours, stirring once after four hours. Remove the lid for the last hour so that it can get some extra colour.

Roll open your ready rolled pastry, or roll out your own. Cut to fit your pie dish. I usually use a new dish so that I can measure the pastry nicely, and to ensure I dirty up some extra dishes for my long-suffering spouse to wash. Remove the venison and turn the oven up to 200 degrees C.

Transfer the venison filling to the pie dish. You shouldn’t need to thicken it up, but you could do with cornflour if you really want. Brush the rim of the dish with your egg/milk to glue the pastry lid down. Top with pastry, embellish as desired, poke in a few holes to let out the steam and brush all over with egg/milk. Pop it back in the oven at 200 for 40 minutes.

Serve and enjoy! You can serve it with boiled new potatoes tossed in butter and parsley with some fresh steamed beans or broccoli, but as you can see, we didn’t bother and enjoyed it just on its own.

What are your favourite meat pie fillings?