Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chanukah Christmas doughnuts

This year Chanukah and Christmas have overlapped, so we have had our menorah and our advent candle burning at the same time. But why stop there? In the spirit of cultural fusion, I decided to fill some of my traditional Chanukah doughnuts with mincemeat to make a deep-fried Jewish alternative to mince pies. You could, of course, use jam or even just pop a square of dark chocolate into the middle.

for the dough
7g instant yeast
300ml warm milk
20g sugar
2 eggs
15g vegetable oil
500g plain flour
for the filling
mincemeat or jam or half a square of dark chocolate

  1. Mix the dough ingredients thoroughly with a spoon, leave to sit for 10 minutes, then work for 10 minutes on a non-porous surface until you have a nice smooth dough. (The dough will be quite wet at the start, so is best worked with the "stretch, swing and fold" technique shown here.)
  2. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic and leave to prove for about 2 hours.
  3. Transfer the dough to a well-floured and work it gently for a couple of minutes. Roll out to a thickness of about 0.5cm and cut into 5cm circles.
  4. To fill, place a teaspoon of mincemeat in the centre of half of the circles, brush the outside of the circle with a little water, place another round on top and crimp the edges together to seal. Transfer to a well-floured tray and leave to rise for about 30 minutes.
  5. Heat plenty of oil in a deep fat fryer or large saucepan until it is medium hot (about 170oC), and fry the doughnuts in batches for 3 minutes, before turning them over and frying for a further minute. Drain, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with brandy butter.
Kosher dilemma
My original plan had been to make jam doughnuts and mince pies, before I realised that the lard I use in my mince pie pastry with is made from pig fat and therefore not eligible for being served to my grandma. I did briefly consider going on a hunt for a kosher alternative before I hit upon the idea of combining the two in a sweet festive smorgasbord of Judeo-Christian cultural mestizaje. Needless to say, my grandma would have nothing to do with my carefully concocted mncemeat donuts, and insisted on jam.

Parsnip and ginger soup

Santa brought me the new River Cottage Veg every day! cookbook. I haven't seen the TV programmes yet, but the book looks great and I'm hoping it will inspire me to find new ways of turning my veggie box into delicious meals.

The first thing I cooked from it was this delicious parsnip and ginger soup. I've toned it down a bit as the version in the book was a little zingy, and left out the milk because the soup already seemed thick enough at that stage.

olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chilli powder
500g parsnips
800ml vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of flaked almonds

  1. Finely chop the onion, and gently sautee in plenty of olive oil. When it is just about done, add the finely chopped garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or so.
  2. Add the cardamom, cumin and chilli, fry for 30 seconds, then add the parsnips.
  3. Fry for a few seconds more, add the stock, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to minimum and simmer for 20 minutes until the parsnips are cooked.
  4. Allow to cool, then liquidise with a stick blender. Test for seasoning and add salt if necessary.
  5. Reheat, and serve with a sprinkling of the toasted almond flakes and some freshly ground black pepper.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Spanish beef stew with rosemary and olives

We've had roast goose for the last couple of Christmases but this year, as the date approached, none of us were really attracted by the stress of trying to coordinate timing the cooking of a large bird with the process of marshalling ten people to the dining table to eat it. So I decided to make a stew instead. I wanted something with plenty of flavour, with a nice thick sauce and with some hints of Spain. This was what I came up with. (The anchovies don't give a fishy flavour, but just help to intensify everything else.)

3 kg beef
1 bottle of red wine
50g fresh rosemary stalks
plain flour
1 head of celery
2 large onions
6 cloves of garlic
2 red peppers
3 tsps paprika
100g tomato puree
6 salted anchovy fillets
250g of olives, drained and rinsed


  1. Cut the beef into  chunks, and place in a large bowl. Add the rosemary, olives and wine, mix well and leave to marinade in the fridge overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the meat in a colander, reserving the marinading liquid, rosemary stalks and olives. Leave the meat to dry for a few hours if possible.
  3. Brown the meat in batches in hot olive oil (about 0.5 kg at a time, depending on the size of your pan). Dredge the last two batches (about 1 kg of the meat) in flour before frying. (This will help to thicken the sauce of the casserole.) Transfer the cooked meat to a bowl.
  4. Meanwhile, transfer the marinading liquid, rosemary and olives to a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. Remove the olives and rosemary. Set aside the olives to serve with the meat if you wnt to.
  5. Finely chop the celery, onions, garlic and red peppers, and sweat throroughly in plenty of olive oil in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole dish. When the vegetables are cooked, add the paprika and tomato puree, mix well, and add the reduced marinating liquid, the browned meat (together with any juices), and the finely chopped anchovy fillets.
  6. If cooking on the stove top, add 250 ml of water, bring to a very gentle simmer, cover and cook at a very low heat for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender. You will need to be careful that the flour does not burn, so you will need to keep a close eye on the stew, making sure you stir it from time to time, and adding a little extra water if necessary..
  7. If cooking in a casserole, preheat the oven to 150oC, cover the casserole dish and cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Victorian mulled wine

It annoys me when something old and traditional is repackaged and sold as if it is new and exotic, especially if the new version is inferior to the old one. Every year I go through Halloween trauma, when the shops are filled with garish orange pumpkins and plastic vampire teeth, and my suffering is only slightly relieved by being able to buttonhole the occasional American and lecture them on the Scottish origins of the festival and the joys of turnip carving. Last year I was lucky to have a resident American in the form of Kaya's dad Jordon to play this part, and this year the role has been filled by our new friends Beth and Josh. I apologies to all of you for making you the recipients of my curmudgeonly rantings.

With Halloween barely over it is German Christmas Market time in Edinburgh and just about everywhere else in the UK (or Weihnachtsmarkt as they call it in Frankfurt). I'm partial to the odd bratwurst myself and am quite happy to browse stalls loaded with little wooden Christmas ornaments, but I draw the line at their  gluhwein. The problem starts with inferior wine, and is then compounded by excessive sugar, heavy-handed spicing, and stewing the wine. The result is a mug of expensive cough medicine.

So I decided to make some traditional Victorian mulled wine. The sugar, spices and citrus should be identifiable without being overpowering or sickly, and preparing a syrup which is then strained and added to the wine, which is in turn gently heated, has a number of advantages. You don't get any of the nasty bitterness from leaving the spices and citrus sitting around in the wine, you are not at risk of choking on the whole cloves floating around in your drink and, last but not least, you don't reduce the alcohol content of the wine by cooking it off.

250ml water
175g brown sugar
6 cinnamon sticks
2-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon of cloves
zest of 1 orange
2 bottles of red wine (I used a Chilean merlot)


  1. Combine the water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and orange zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until you have a thick syrup.
  2. Pour the wine into a large saucepan, strain the syrup into it, and heat well but take care not to boil or to allow it to simmer. Serve immediately or turn off the heat and cover the pan.
Photo credits
Together with my mulled wine, this photo features Gemma's handmade Scandinavian wooden advent calendar.

Monday, December 19, 2011


A glut of oranges appeared in our fruit bowl the other day. They had been acquired to make Christmas decorations out of (stuck with cloves and suspended around the house from festive ribbons) but there were plenty left over, so I made some marmalade. The recipe comes from Lynda Brown's Preserving Book.

(makes 4 small jars)
1 kg oranges
2 lemons
1.2 litres water
1 kg granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of whisky

  1. Halve and juice the oranges and lemons, set aside the juice, and tie the pith and pips from the juicer in a muslin square.
  2. Put the orange and lemon shells into a large pan, add the water and the muslin bundle, bring to the boil, and simmer with the lid ajar for 1 hour.
  3. Discard the muslin bundle, and strain the shells through a colander over a bowl to collect the liquor.
  4. Allow to cool, remove any mushy pith from inside the shells with a spoon and discard, then cut each shell into three segments, and slice each crosswise very thinly.
  5. Meanwhile, sterilise at least four 450g jars, together with their lids and any other equipment, and place a few saucers in the freezer to use for testing the set.
  6. Return the sliced peel to the pan, together with the reserved liquor. Add the fruit juice and the sugar, and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved.
  7. Bring to a fast boil and cook for between 5 and 20 minutes until you have achieved a set. (To do this, drip a few drops of the marmalade 'juice' onto the cold plate. Leave to cool for a few seconds. If it is ready, then the surface will wrinkle when you push the drop with your fingernail. Or you can just stick your finger in it and see if it has a slightly sticky, jammy consistency rather than a syrupy one. It may take a good 20 minutes of boiling to reach the setting point; keep testing at regular intervals and make sure you don't overcook it.)
  8. Once you have a set, turn off the heat, skim any scum from the surface, and allow the marmalade to sit for about 15 minutes. Add the whisky, stir well to make sure the peel (and the whisky) are evenly distributed, and transfer to your sterilised jars.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sri Lankan lamb curry

When we moved back to Edinburgh from Cadiz in July, I thought I would be cooking lots of Indian food and I also hoped I would be teaming up with Sammy and Carmela in the kitchen. It hasn't really worked out that way, as I've found myself getting to grips with the changing contents of our weekly veg box, discovering the joys of jam and chutney, rediscovering pickles, and continuing to perfect my sourdough. Sammy and Carmela, quite wisely, have preferred the charms of Harry Potter, the Wii and Phineas and Ferb to the dubious appeal of playing a walk-on part in my one-man kitchen drama.

(Head chef all cooked out and back watching some Phineas and Ferb on the internet!)

Today I finally managed to tempt them back into the kitchen, and we had a bit of a cookathon. Carmela made mincemeant for the first mince pies of the Christmas season and also helped me to make some great fish and beef won ton, and Sammy cooked up a Sri Lankan lamb curry, with me playing the role of sous chef. The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey's "100 Essential Curries", and I uncharacteristically planned and shopped before we made it.

whole spices
4 teaspoons of whole black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
6 teaspoons of whole coriander seeds
4 cloves
spice paste
1 small onion
2-inch chunk of ginger
6 cloves of garlic
small bunch of fresh coriander
1 red chilli
1 tsp ground turmeric
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
50 ml water
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
20 curry leaves
1 kg diced lamb
1 can of coconut cream

  1. Use a spice mill or pestle and mortar to grind the whole spices.
  2. Peel and chop the onion, ginger and garlic. Put into a measuring jug with the roughly chopped coriander, deseeded chilli, turmeric, lemon juice, salt and 50 ml of water, and whizz with a hand blender until you have a smooth paste.
  3. Heat a good glug of vegetable oil in a large pot. When hot, add the cinnamon, cardamom and curry leaves, fry for a few seconds and add the lamb. Fry for a few minutes until the meat is browned, then add the ground spice mixture and fry for another 30 seconds or so before adding the paste.
  4. Cook for 5 minutes, then add just enough water to ensure that the meat is covered. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to minimum and simmer for about 1.5 hours until the lamb is tender.
  5. Add the coconut cream and cook for another 5 minutes.
As the sous chef it was my job to grind the spices with the pestle and mortar. It was surprisingly quick, but that didn't stop me from going onto amazon and ordering an electric spice mill post haste.