Thursday, 19 November 2009

Boozy Christmas Pudding Trifle

Now that it's getting dark by 4pm and the rain seems to take little respite from lashing against the windows, it would be easy to just grab the duvet and curl up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire watching re-runs of Friends for comfort. But I am resolute in my love for late autumn - a mug of hot chocolate awaiting my return from a rain-soaked walk, visits to cosy pubs with real fires, steaming cups of mulled wine - yes, I am a self-confessed lover of this time of year, not least because it can mean only one thing: it's only five weeks till Christmas.

For me, Christmas is about getting together with friends and family, cooking, eating and celebrating just being together. I love planning and cooking a big roast dinner for my family on Christmas day, or thinking about what nibbles to provide at our party for friends the week before. No Christmas cooking challenge is too daunting for me (she foolishly says) - which is why I leapt at the chance to take part in the Matthew Walker Pudding Challenge to create a delicious new dessert from their venerable 'Recipe 13' pudding. All sorts of festive goodies sprang instantly to mind - truffles, ice cream, creme brulee, spicy strudel - but in the end I plumped for a dessert that would take me straight back to my childhood: a good old-fashioned trifle. Christmas is all about home comforts, after all ...

Boozy Christmas Pudding Trifle
Serves 2

1 x 100g Matthew Walker ‘The Pudding’
1 orange, peeled and segmented
Half a pint of custard (3 egg yolks, 25g sugar, 300ml milk)
100ml double (or whipping) cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
Good quality dark chocolate, grated, for decoration

1. Soak the orange segments in brandy for a few hours, or overnight.
2. Remove the pudding from its packaging and slice into 4 pieces.
3. Make the custard sauce: whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy; heat the milk until almost boiled, then whisk half of it into the egg mix; return this back to the pan of milk and heat gently over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens.
4. Place a slice or two of Christmas pudding in a martini glass (or other decorative glass or bowl). Arrange some orange segments on top, along with some of the brandy-juice to soak the pudding. Pour the warm custard over to cover the fruit and place in the fridge to chill for a while.
5. Whisk the cream, icing sugar and brandy together until just firm - not like butter. Spoon the cream over the chilled trifles and sprinkle with grated chocolate.

This is a sure-fire festive favourite. Grab a spoon and dig in!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup

Autumn has well and truly set in round my way, with cloudless blue skies overhead and masses of alternately crisp and soggy leaves underfoot. Edinburgh certainly knows how to do autumn well.

This time of year brings both a glut of wonderful root veg in my weekly organic box, and the desire to really spice things up in an attempt to keep warm from the inside out. To me, parsnips are the king of the root veg, and I love them in any form - roasted, mashed, even in cakes from time to time - but there is something about their savoury sweetness that makes them ideal to transform into velvety smooth soups. And they happen to go particularly well with curry spices. So the other day I came up with this delicate soup, both to warm me up on a cold Wednesday afternoon and to serve as my entry for this month's No Croutons Required competition over at Lisa's Kitchen. It's a real winter warmer, sure to brighten even the dullest, wettest day.

Curried Parsnip & Apple Soup
Serves 4

3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp flour
800ml vegetable stock
1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil and 25g butter
salt & pepper
50ml milk (optional)

1. Heat the oil and butter in large saucepan. Saute onions until soft, add garlic and parsnips and cook gently for a few minutes.
2. Add curry powder and flour, stir to coat the veg and cook for no more than two minutes to prevent the spices from burning.
3. Add the stock and apples and stir well. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the parsnips and apples are tender but not mushy.
4. Blend the soup into a velvety puree. Add a splash of milk if desired and more stock/water if the soup is too thick.
5. Serve with crispy garlic croutons, toasted pumpkin seeds or a swirl of creme fraiche.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Granny Chisholm's Clootie Dumpling

There are some things, usually food related I find, that can transport you back to childhood in an instant. It might be the smell of your mum's chicken casserole, the memory of licking the spoon after a marathon cake-baking session, or the sight of a stack of pancakes for Sunday breakfast. For me, it is Clootie Dumpling. My granny was a wonderful, traditional Scottish cook - mince and tatties, tablet, raspberry jam were all staples - but her greatest recipe, and the one she is most fondly remembered for, was good old clootie dumpling. My family (particularly my uncle) still celebrates birthdays with a clootie instead of the more modern sponge confections, and New Year dinners wouldn't be the same without one.

It seems incredible that I had never attempted to make a clootie dumpling myself, considering how important the recipe has been in my life. Since my granny passed away, the clootie mantle has been passed to my aunt, who lovingly prepares a sumptuous, bulging clootie for my uncle's birthday each year. But recently I've been thinking it's time for me to have a go, to keep the clootie dumpling alive in my generation instead of allowing it to become a relic of the past. Yes it's traditional, yes it's old-fashioned, but I think that's to be celebrated rather than ignored.

So here it is, my granny's clootie dumpling, kept alive into the Noughties.

Serves a big hungry family.

1 cup shredded suet (vegetarian suet is available)
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup sultanas
1 cup currants
1 cup milk
1 grated carrot OR 1 grated apple
1 large teaspoon cinnamon
1 large teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.
2. Flour a large sheet of greaseproof paper and place the clootie mix upon it. Place in a large cloth and then double wrap inside another teatowel/muslin (or old pillowcase!) Secure firmly with string. The clootie should be taking shape now - it should look a bit like a curling stone.
3. Place on an upturned plate in a large heavy pan with about 5cm water and steam on a low heat for 4-5 hours, topping up the water when it gets too low.
4. Remove the clootie from the pan, carefully unwrap it and place on a baking tray in a medium overn (160 C / gas mark 3) for 15 minutes. This will allow the clootie to dry out and form its traditional 'skin'.
5. Remove from the oven, cut into generous slices and serve with either custard, cream or just a sprinkling of caster sugar. Or, for a more modern twist, try serving with a dollop of creme fraiche.