Monday, 28 November 2011

Recipe XXXV - Traditional English Plum Pudding

Last Sunday was what is known as Stir-up Sunday, and traditionally the weekend where plum puddings are *stirred up*, to *stir up* the festive Yuletide feelings. To make it, you need a fair few ingredients and a lot of time, but the personal rewards are extraordinary. I haven't eaten a supermarket one for over five years, and the season wouldn't be complete without it.
The measurements in this recipe are most certainly only estimates, and I sincerely recommend you put in the ingredients you want, and in the quantities you want. Traditionalists use shredded suet, but to be honest, bread or an extra amount of breadcrumbs are just as good.
You really need two days for this, so plan ahead. The four-week gap between making and eating is not so important: you can even make them now for the year after.

Main Ingredients:
60 to 80g sifted ordinary flour
150g white breadcrumbs
250g dark brown sugar
750g raisins, sultanas and currants
30 dried plums (prunes)
A teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg
100g chopped almonds
250g dried apricots, chopped
120g ground hazelnuts
A good tablespoon of fivespice (Lebkuchen spices)
A large spoonful of cinnamon
50g candied peel, finely chopped
3 apples, cored
2 oranges (grate the peel separately and squeeze the juice out)
2 lemons (grate the peel separately and squeeze the juice out)
2 or 3 eggs
Strong alcohols of your choice: I used these:

but you can use stout beer, barley wine, rum, brandy, sherry or whatever takes your fancy.

Instructions, day 1:
To start, take the largest bowl in the house. If you don't have a huge bowl add it to your shopping list! Put in the breadcrumbs, the flour, the brown sugar and the spices. Stir them round really well, then add all the dried fruit and all the nuts, the grated orange peel and grated lemon peel, plus the candied peel. To keep tabs, remember to put them in bowls like I did, so you can see what you haven't put in yet.

Once all the dry ingredients are in, crack the eggs into a Pyrex jug and add your alcohol mix. This will bind the ingredients more thoroughly without the need for the suet.

Then, go to your neighbours and call your friends and family over to stir the bowl and make a wish! After all this preparation, it is time to take a rest. So once everything is so very well-mixed, leave it in a cool, dry place overnight to bind and settle.

Day 2:
Useful equipment:
A chopping board
A roll of silicone paper
A roll of tin foil
Some muslin (1m²)
A huge saucepan
Something to put in the water to steam the puddings (I used the filter for my rice cooker)

Take your bowl out and put the chopping board flat on the table. Cut the silicone paper to size and using the chopping board as a weight, put two ends under each side. That leaves you free to spoon the pudding mixture onto the paper, as below.

Fold up the edges of the paper and make the pudding into a ball. Cover in tin foil, leaving an onion-shaped effect to be able to tie string round the puddings. This aids in the removal process when they are still very hot.

Put some water into the bottom of the large saucepan and place the rice cooker filter on top. Steam the puddings for several hours. I steam them for 8 hours, but 4 is probably enough.

REMEMBER: keep filling up with hot water from the kettle or tap each hour, and don't allow the water to run low.

Once done, take them out of the steamer, let them settle, cool down, and take them out of their foil and paper wrappers. Put new silicone paper over them, wrap them in muslin and hang them in a cool, dry place for the next four weeks, or give them to close friends and family as early Christmas presents! Here are two of mine, from last Christmas, hanging in the linen wardrobe:

Day of consumption - instructions:
On the day itself, remove the one you want from its storage place, and still in its wrapping, steam it for 2 to 3 hours. Put it on a warm plate, take it to the dining table, pour brandy over it and set fire to it.
Once the cheering and the flames have died down, serve with custard (recipe coming soon), brandy butter, cream or ice cream.

  • Reheating is not a problem - surprisingly, the microwave is quite a good place for it.
  • You can make them as large or as small as you like, so think about who you might be cooking them for, and size the puddings accordingly. To identify them, do certain things to the strings, like "this is for a couple, two knots", "this is for a family of 4, so I'll make a circle between two knots. See the third last photo above.
  • To make it a truly traditional annual event, take some good friends or family in October to your local orchards to pick apples and nuts. You can also make your plum puddings then, or the weekend after your trip to the orchard, to keep the meetings regular.
  • The idea behind plum puddings was actually that - to take the fresh ingredients and before they went off, put them into a heavy cake with alcohol as preservation, to celebrate midwinter with something filling in your stomach.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Recipe XXXIV - Stuffing Your Bird

In the run-up to Yuletide, I would like to suggest some ways to make your own traditional Christmas dinner. This week, we're looking at stuffing birds. There are many ways of doing this, without having to rely on ready-made material.

A small loaf or a thick slice of white bread
2-3 eggs
A splash of milk
Some dried herbs (sage, oregano, rosemary, etc., or whatever you choose)
Some dried fruits (dried apricots, raisins, etc., or something similar)
Some crushed almonds or walnuts
An onion, cut into small squares
4 cloves of garlic
Ground black pepper
Salt to taste, and of course...
...a bird to put it in! I chose a pheasant, because it needed cooking.

Notes on game birds:
Don't forget to get your game bird off a good huntsman. Hang it up in a cool, dry place for several weeks if you can. The longer you hang it up for, and the worse it stinks, the better it will taste on your plate. I couldn't, because the finicky Germans have banned game birds due to avian flu, so I had to import mine from the UK frozen.

Take the bread and break it up into a bowl. Crack the eggs on top (two should do, but with a big bird, you will need more bread and more eggs) and pour on some milk. With a potato masher, work the ingredients into each other. Leave it whilst you cut up the onion and garlic, and crush your pepper.

Add all the other ingredients into the mixture and mix wekk using a fork or the potato masher.

Take the bird, spread it out and open up the space where the innards normally are. Stuff the mixture inside. Follow the recommended cooking instructions for your bird, with the stuffing.

Once you remove the bird from the oven, your stuffing should have a thick crust (see the photo below).

Finally, cut up your bird into (un)equal portions, making sure everyone gets some, but the cook gets the most!

Above is how the stuffing looks across the middle.

Point of interest:
You don't have to have a bird to make stuffing. You can put it into roulades of beef or pork, or you can roast or steam the stuffing as a dish on its own. It is so heavy, it makes an ideal vegetarian meal.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Recipe XXXIII - The aubergine, the Brussels sprout, and the broad bean: Cooking with unpopular vegetables

The aubergine. The Brussels sprout. The broad bean. Three vegetables that kids find boring, adults don't really know what to do with them. They sit on the shelf in the supermarket, begging for someone to take them away and give them some love, but nobody does. These are three easy recipes to warm up your winter, and maybe, with the coming Yuletide festival, they will give you an idea for guests.

Ingredients for the aubergine:
1 aubergine
6 thin slices of prosciutto or serrano or any cured ham
Some olive oil

Take a large frying pan and heat up the olive oil to a very high temperature. By heating it up very high before putting anything in, the aubergine does not absorb so much oil. Fry it on both sides until it browns.

Put the ham flat on a plate. Take the aubergne out of the pan and put them on top of the ham.

Roll the ham up inside the aubergine and serve on a cocktail stick or with forks.


Ingredients for the Brussels sprout:
200g Brussels sprouts
200g Gelderland ham or English bacon
Some whole peppercorns and a pestle & mortar
A corner of butter
A small onion
Some nutmeg and a nutmeg grater

Steam the Brussels sprouts with the lid on and cut up the bacon with a pair of scissors.

Fry the onion and bacon in the oil (if you still have it, of the aubergine)

Remove the sprouts from the steamer and heat some butter in a saucepan. Grate the nutmeg into the butter. Fry the sprouts in the butter, then add the other ingredients. Leave half the bacon and onions for the next recipe. Serve immediately.


Ingredients for the broad beans:
1 jar of broad beans
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
A generous sprinkle of oregano
The rest of the bacon
Tomato passata carton
Red wine

Put the onions in the frying pan and sweat them. Two or three minutes later, add the beans and garlic, and fry for a few minutes.

Add the tomato passata and the red wine. Cook for 35 to 30 minutes with the lid off and allow it to reduce.

Serve in bowls.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Recipe XXXII - Quince Jelly

Quince - what's one of those then? It's like a pear only bigger. Or an apple. But a big one. Well they're fruit anyway, and quite frankly, who knows what else to do with them?

2 kg quinces
1kg-1.5kg jelly sugar
2 litres water
2 tbsp cinnamon (optional)
10 pods cardemom or some vanilla essence or anything you think would give it an interesting taste.
1 large saucepan
Several empty jam jars

Peel the quinces, then take off the ends and quarter them.

Immerse them in water and boil them with the lid on and on half heat until they are tender. Turn off the cooker, and let them stand for a night.
The next day, boil them once again with the lid on. Then if you think it's enough, take the saucepan off the cooker and remove the quinces.

If you would like clear jelly, use a cheesecloth to strain the liquid. I chose not to.
Add the sugar (500g per 750ml) and the cardemom and cinnamon.

Put it once more on the cooker at full heat, stirring occasionally whilst heating. It should boil for about three minutes.
Take it off the cooker and fill your pots!

Don't forget, for good sterilisation of your jampots, put them in the oven at max 150°C for at least 20 minutes. This kills any bacteria which may be lurking on the pots, which will make your jelly go mouldy quite quickly. If properly sterilised, your jelly will last for years.

Notice, I'm tipping the pot up. You can see the wall tiles in the background.