Monday, 28 November 2011


The boy and I were reflecting again recently on how much our culture in Britain has been steeped in Christianity - how it has permeated everyone's cultural consciousness to the point that we no longer notice.  It was brought home to us most recently when we tried to expose some Malaysians to Monty Python by showing them Life of Brian.  It wasn't the weird humour which went over their heads - it was the whole 'Brian is a bit like Jesus lols' thing.  It had just never occurred to us that anyone would be so unfamiliar with the New Testament as to go 'oh, so that's the three wise men is it? oh yeah...'

Christmastime for obvious reasons is another one of these cultural events with a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle Jesus in there to trip the unwary.  But sometimes the Jesusy bits are the best bits.  The above photo is an Advent wreath - the candles are supposed to symbolise key virtues or people, depending on tradition, and are lit one per Sunday in December counting down to Christmas.  Lovely.  Trust the Germans to invent a way of celebrating the birth of Our Lord which involves setting things on fire for an extended period of time.

I've never made an Advent wreath, and we don't have room for one in either of my current residences really, but I am beginning to count the days in my own way.  The present-buying has started, and I am starting to think about the number of biscuits and cakes I should make this year, and what kinds.  I never got round to posting my christmas cake recipe last year, but I have some good ideas for 2011 already. 

I'm looking forward to spending this festive season at home with my family, for the first time in some years.  We're big biscuit-eaters and present-appreciators, and there will be viewing of Muppet DVDs and old friends and emphatically not turkey to eat.  Bliss.  Now all we need is a little snow (and accompanying bucket of grit).

Friday, 18 November 2011

Leek And Pig Pie

It would seem from the titles of pages I brought up whilst seeking the above image that there are many people who don't know what to do with leeks.  Have never tried them.  Never realised they liked them.  They aren't the most staple vegetable in the world - being a little more expensive than broccoli (to take a staple veg at random) does not help them.  But they are well worth the extra few pence a pound.  There's nothing like that smooth, onion-ish greenery sweet taste.

I always knew I liked them, or rather was going to be brought up to like them, because a favourite dish of Dear Mama's was leek and bacon pie.  It's a classic, just as good cold as hot, a lunchbox standby when buttering sandwiches was too much to bear.  I used to get strange looks pulling a corner slice out at school but who cares.  With the man away on holiday again, I can eat whatever I damn well want, and as he doesn't like leeks (!) I rustled up the following just to spite him.

Leek and Pig Pie
You Will Need: Rectangular pie dish, ovenproof and about 25cm x 15cm; scales; rolling pin; large bowl; dinner knife; chopping board; sharp knife; small saucepan; small bowl.
Plain flour
Semi-skimmed milk
about 400g thin-cut lean pork, or pack of bacon, or mixture
One large or two small leeks
Three or four eggs
Cheddar cheese

1) Make the pastry (YES YOU CAN don't be a wuss).  Measure out 4oz flour and 2 oz butter.  Cut the butter into lots of little slices.  In the large bowl, rub the flour and fat together with your bare hands until you have a fine breadcrumby mess.  Hot tip - take your rings off first and put them somewhere safe, pastry is hard to get out of gem fittings.  Add a large pinch of salt and a slosh of milk.  Stir about with the dinner knife until it looks solid enough to get a handle on.  Handle it into a ball.  Wrap said ball in clingfilm and jam it in the fridge until needed.  SEE WAS THAT SO HARD**
2) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (as usual).  Chop the leeks into 1cm circles, and push the middles so that they fall apart into rings.  'Sweat' these with a little more butter in the saucepan, by melting the butter, adding leeks and putting the lid on over a low-medium heat.  Toss the pan (with lid on) occasionally to stop them sticking. Do until softened.
3) Set the leeks aside in the bowl.  Cut the pig into small pieces.  Brown the meat in the same pan, until all browned.  Drain off any watery fatty liquid (this will only sog the pie).  Mix the leeks back in off the heat.
4) Scatter flour on your worksurface.  Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 3mm thick.  Shuffle into the pie dish.  Trim the edges; if there are places where the pastry reaches over and under the edge, cut the overs off and press them into the unders.  Scatter the pig/leek mix into the pastry case.
5) Beat together a few eggs, enough to mostly cover the meat.  Pour over.  If you think you'll be short of egg, beat in some milk to make it go further.
6) Cut slices of cheese and lay them over the surface.  Bake for half an hour until golden brown at the edges. 

**Note for pastry virgins: I was one of you once.  Never again.  But- if you feel I have been unduly harsh here, I may do a proper 'pastry 101' post soon.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Sun-dried tomato beef sauce

One of the first things that my mother taught me to make - or the first dish that I internalised - was spaggy bol.  It's not spaghetti bolognese, the real thing, the way the Italians make it; I highly doubt that they put julienned carrots in theirs, or use quite so much Lea and Perrins.  But it's bloody good.  Having said that, it can be improved upon.

The man puts red wine in it.  And more Lea and P.  And sun-dried tomatoes.  And he likes the mince to be in big lumps - or does he?  Maybe that's just how it ends up.  And slow-cooked in the Le Creuset in the oven.  And not on spaghetti.  Because spaghetti is a recipe for white-shirt-death.

Today I'm making something mincey and red and (according to the man's mother) 'oh my god Elisabeth garlic'y - but I can't even call it spag bol.  It's just going to be hearty and pleasant on something starch-related.  Here it is.

Stuff To Put On Stuff What Is Beefy And That
You Will Need: Chopping board; chopping knife; vegetable peeler; cheese grater; casserole pan; teaspoon; wooden spoon/spatula; oven gloves

1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
400g beef mince
(small lump of steak, thinly sliced (leftover from the other day))(optional) (lots of brackets)
one carrot
one onion
half bulb garlic
half bottle red wine
Lea and Perrins
tomato purée

1) Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.
2) Heat a few teaspoons of oil from the jar of tomatoes in the casserole.  Finely chop the onions and garlic; into little squares, or half-rings if preferred.  If you have some, finely slice the steak.
3) Fry the onion and garlic on a high heat for about 2 minutes, then turn the heat down.  Add the mince and steak if using, and turn over until it's all brown on the outsides, more or less.  Add more oil from the jar if needed.  Turn the heat down some more.
4) Add half a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, draining them on the side of the jar with the spoon as you go.
5) Grate the carrot on the cheese grater.  Add to the pan.  Stir.
6) Slosh generously with Lea and P; add the wine.  Spooge generously with tomato purée.  Stir.
7) Bring to a simmer, then take off the hob and put in the oven.
8) Every hour or so, take the pan out, give it another stir and add water if needed to re-cover the ingredients.
9) Boil/roast starch of choice to serve.  Blob.  Nom.