Monthly Archives: December 2010

Chorizo and Chickpea Soup

Yeah, yeah, tins and packets, but an ideal mid week supper for the braindead. It’s about an hour of elapsed time, but only five minutes’ actual work.

The herbs and spices in this one should be subtle.

  • 400g chopped up onions, celery, carrots, whatever (a 400g bag of the pre-prepped stuff from Waitrose is ideal)
  • 400g tinned toms (plus equal amount hot water)
  • 400g tin chickpeas, drained
  • 50g diced or thinly sliced chorizo (or loads more if you fancy)
  • a clove or two
  • a pinch of
    • dried oregano
    • ground cumin
    • paprika

Gently fry the chorizo to render the fat. Expect this to take about ten minutes.

Add the soffritto, and a pinch of salt. Continue to fry, until soft, stirring from time to time. Again, another ten minutes.

Add the toms, an equal amount of hot water, the chickpeas and the herbs/spices. If you’ve got a bottle of wine on the go, then add a splash.

Adjust seasoning, and simmer for about half an hour. The starch from the chickpeas will thicken it, so you may need more water.


Mince Pies

No major secrets to making mince pies, but you will need to do some calculating and engineering to get the pastry circles the right size. I use muffin tins (in which I’ve made all sorts of things, but never muffins) and aim for a pie about a half an inch deep.

This will use up about half of the mincemeat in the previous recipe, and produce 24 small pies. (I don’t hold with huge deep pies, as they will go soggy.)

My parents used to get very worked up about making pastry from scratch. I don’t think there’s any major secret, other than not letting the fat melt. It helps if you’re the sort of person about whose cold hands people complain.

  • 350g plain flour (you could substitute 25g of ground almonds for 25g of the flour if you fancied)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 75g butter
  • 75g lard (you could use all butter but the pastry would not be as crisp nor as light)
  • 25g caster sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
  • mincemeat (around 500g)

Start by filling a small bowl or large teacup with cold water and putting it in the freezer.

Roughly chop up the fat, and then pop all the ingredients into a large bowl and rub the flour into the fat with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Some recipes tell you to do this stage in the blender, which I reckon just creates unnecessary washing up. (If it’s a hot day, or the room in which you’re working has a blazing oven or fire, then there is a slight risk the mix may go slimy, that is, the fat will start to melt. If this happens, wrap in cling film, and pop it into the fridge for ten minutes to recover.)

Retrieve the now icy water from the freezer, and mix it in with your hands, one tablespoon at a time, until the pastry comes together in a ball. There’s enough fat for it not to stick to the bowl. You’ll probably need 5 – 6 tablespoons, i.e. 75 – 90mL, maybe one or two more. Tightly cover the ball in cling wrap, and put it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes to rest. (This is vital, otherwise it will not behave. At all.)

Once the pastry has rested, flour a work surface, and divide the ball into four roughly equal pieces. A single heroic sheet will be too much trouble to roll. Roll the pastry as thin as it will go, without tearing: probably 2-3 millimetres thick.

Now, you’ll need to cut the pastry into large and small circles, for the bases and lids, respectively. You could use a pastry cutter, I tend to use a large tumbler and a small tumbler. Press bases and lids in alternation, so you don’t run out of pastry and find you don’t have enough lids. Using the quantities above, I got enough pastry for about 16 pies on the first attempt. Squish all the off-cuts of pastry into a ball and roll out again to do the rest. I needed to re-roll a second time for the final four.

Get the oven going. I crank my fan-forced up to 200ºC.

Put the large discs into the muffin moulds. Doesn’t matter too much if there are wrinkles etc as these will smooth out during baking. Put about a tablespoon of mincemeat in each pie. Try not to overstuff. Less is more. Pop the lids on. If you moisten the edges, the lids stand a chance of sticking to the bases. (In the photo above you can see that the lids look like they’re about to escape, but are in fact firmly glued in place by the mincemeat: I should have made both bases and lids a whisker larger.)

Twenty minutes in the oven should do the trick. Whip the pies out of the moulds and onto a cooling rack, and dust with icing sugar. (This is purely for visual effect.)


I my old age I have become reconciled to Christmas and am partial to pudding and mince pies, at least of the homemade variety. This particular concoction is of the right consistency to either fill mince pies or form the basis of a pudding. I initially used Microsoft Excel to do a side-by-side comparison of St Delia, Blessed Eliza, and the hysterical Empire Pudding, converting everything to metric and the same quantities to try and identify the quintessential components and ratios. In the end, old fashioned trial and error worked better.

You’ll need:

  • 500g in total of sultanas, raisins, currants, peel (nothing wrong with buying a pre-mixed bag)
  • 300g of apples (that’s probably three small or two large ones, aiming to end up with 200g grated apple)
  • 100g suet
  • two lemons: zest and juice
  • 125g muscovado sugar
  • 125mL booze (dark spiced rum, e.g. Sailor Jerry)
  • 25g almonds (flaked and bashed)
  • a solitary clove, 1tsp cinnamon, 1tsp nutmeg
  • 1tsp ground ginger

Day One. Mix the dried fruit, peel and nuts with the booze, cover with cling wrap and leave over night. I think you should use dark spiced rum for this, although some people say brandy, and some whiskey. Also, pour yourself a very small glass of rum, and when nobody is looking, down it and go, “Arrrr!!!” to commune with your Inner Pirate. If you’re feeling fancy, slip half a vanilla pod under the rum.

Day Two. Zest the lemons, and put the zest, juice, sugar and suet in a saucepan on a low heat, until the suet melts and you get a sloshy goop. Do not try and boil, melt or caramelise: fat, water and sugar on a high temperature is lethal. Add the spices. Don’t bother peeling the apples, just wash, grate coarsely and add. Now all you need do is stir this into the rest, and combine well. If you’re going to store and “mature” it then you’ll need sterilised jars etc. – I’ve only ever “matured” it for about four weeks. Otherwise, if you’re going to use it immediately, cover at let it at least sit overnight.

Day Three. Ready for action. Mince pie recipe in the following post. To transform into pudding, add one egg, 25g SR flour, and 25g breadcrumbs per 225g of finished mincemeat. The mix needs to be sloppy, so you may need to loosen it up with a splash of Guinness. (Same procedure works on the author.)

About the suet. I’ve only ever used Atora dried suet. If you can get the Real Thing from your butcher, then good luck. Melting the suet and then mixing it in means everything gets a light coating, which helps preserve things.

Railway Coffee

Eliza Acton wrote this in 1845, on the matter of coffee:

We hear constant and well-founded complaints both from foreigners and English people of the wretched compounds so commonly served up here under its name, especially in many lodging houses, and railway refreshment rooms. At some of the principal stations on lines connected with the coast, by which an immense number of strangers pass and repass, the coffee is so bad, that great as the refreshment of it would be to them, particularly in night travelling, in very cold weather, that they reject it as too nauseous to be swallowed. A little national pride ought surely prevent this, if no higher principle interfered to do so; for to exact the full price of a good commodity, and habitually to supply only trash for it, is a commercial disgrace.

Plus ça change…


Whoops. No new posts for a while. Nothing sinister, just work, life, the festive season, and a festive cold. I’ve not resorted to a month of takeaways, but didn’t think you’d be interested in repeats of tried and tested stuff already published here.

(There is a goulash recipe in progress – which smells and tastes pretty darned good – but looks just a little too much like pet food for my peace of mind.)