Monday, 1 December 2014

Low-Gluten Rye-Pastry Mince Pies

It's mince pie time! I adore Christmas pastries; as a student coming home from college at Christmas I anticipated my brother's amazing home-made sausage rolls so much that I could almost smell them as my train pulled into Gloucester station. As these are no longer an option (what with me being veggie n' all), my dad has taken over the responsibility with Delia's unbelievably delicious veggie 'sausage' rolls. But oh! mince pies. Lovely, lovely mince pies. Each year I almost forget how good they are until I open the previous year's half-used jar of mince meat and it all comes flooding back in a delicious, Christmassy fug.

Home made mince pies are a gazillion times better than any shop versions. Mass-produced mincers are a constant disappointment of overly dry and crumbly pastry and too-sweet filling, and they're always, always, far too big. A mince pie shouldn't be too deep; no more than a teaspoon's worth of mincemeat should fill it up and, in my opinion, the pastry should always be savoury and somewhere between shortcrust and flaky. I favour a simple mince meat with little to no residual booziness; glacé cherries are a no-no and I prefer it nut-free, though the occasional almond is nothing to be sniffed at. A mince pie with icing is not a mince pie, it's the work of the devil. And screw the best before instructions on shop mincemeat - use within 3 months of opening?! Hell, no. Mince meat is much better for a year's maturing - all that sugar and booze will keep it well preserved.

                                                                                                                                                                          (c) Becca Thorne

These rye pastry mincers came about this weekend after I volunteered my pie-making services for the opening of our friends' new shop (in Broadmarsh, Nottingham - Dukki Gifts on the first floor - check them out!) and, as one of them has a wheat/gluten intolerance I thought I'd try making some that he could enjoy too. Rye flour is low in gluten (but not gluten-free, so not for coeliacs) and has a pleasingly wholesome, nutty flavour. Combining this virtuous flour with butter (instead of veg lard or marg) helps lift the flavour to provide a richness that seems thoroughly unwholesome without overpowering the flavours of either the rye or the mince meat. As rye flour is rather grainy I added a tablespoon of gram flour to help everything hold together a little better. You'll find the raw dough a little off-putting - it looks (and feels) like a ball of concrete, but once cooked it goes a tasty-looking golden brown and is surprisingly delicious.

You can make plain flour pastry versions in exactly the same way, just replace the rye with plain flour and omit the gram.

You'll need a mince pie tray (the one I used had 15cm wide moulds) and two fluted cookie/pastry cutters, one for the bases and a slightly smaller one for the lids (I used an approx 7cm and approx 6cm pair).

Makes 15 small mince pies

6oz rye flour
3oz cold, salted butter, cut into approx 1 cm dice
1 tbs gram flour
cold water
Mincemeat (make sure it's made with veggie suet, double check there's nothing else meating it up or introducing any extra gluten if these are for someone with a gluten intolerance)
Milk for brushing (I used Koko)
Caster or demerera sugar for dusting

 First, make the pastry. Mix the rye and gram flours together in a bowl, then rub the butter into the flour using your thumbs and first two fingers. It will start to create a breadcrumb-like consistency. Make sure there's not too much loose flour left, but don't rub all the butter in fully - leave some lumps so that as the pastry cooks it will flake and puff a little. Add cold water a little at a time, and initially combine with a knife so you're not handling the dough too much and melting the butter - you need less water than you'd imagine, so go carefully, don't let it get soggy or gooey. Once the mix looks like it's coming together, get your hands back in there to form a tight ball of dough, then wrap it in cling film and stick it in the fridge for at least half and hour. It can be left overnight if you wish.

Pre-heat the oven to approx 200C/gas mark 6-7. Lightly grease your mince pie tray with butter (use the butter wrapper, you don't need much).

Lightly dust a clean, smooth surface with flour and roll out the pastry to about 1-2mm thick. Don't worry too much if edges crack and it seems much heavier and less elastic than normal pastry - this is just because of the lack of gluten. Use the cookie cutters alternately to cut out lids and bases until you have the right amount for your tray. Any leftovers can be pressed back together and re-rolled to make more if you like.

Take the larger rounds and gently press them into the pie moulds, ensuring they're fairly straight (if they're too wonky, the mincemeat juices will run out as they cook and burn onto the bottom of the pan, which creates an unholy mess that's impossible to clean up and ruins your pie.) Then use one teaspoon to scoop out mincemeat from the jar and a second to portion it out. A teaspoonful should serve two pie cases. It may seem like it's not enough but, it spreads out as it cooks. When each case is filled, brush one of the smaller rounds with milk and place it, milky side down, onto a filled case, gently pressing around the edge to secure it to the base. Do the same with all the rest, then brush each top lightly with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar. Using a sharp knife, poke a small hole in the top of each one and wiggle the knife gently from side to side to enlarge it a little. You may need to hold the lid lightly with one hand to stop it coming unstuck.

Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 10-15 mins or until they've gone golden brown on top and the bottoms are firm.

Immediately remove from the pie tray (you might need to use a knife to pop them out) and allow to cool on a wire rack. Get the fairy lights up, make some mulled wine or cider, and scoff the lot.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Stone Soup (or A Wholesome Veggie Broth)

My partner requested this for lunch the other day, before he took himself to bed with a cold. When your head is fuzzy and full of grossness, and you can't bear the thought of trying to swallow anything rougher than a pea, you need a good, warming bowl of soup. And what better than a wholesome broth, full of nourishing veg and hearty flavours? Remember the story of Stone Soup? It was one of my favourites when I was little, and this broth is exactly what I imagined the final outcome would have been.

                                                                                                                  (c) Becca Thorne 2014

This recipe is quick and super easy to make, there's no noisy blending to upset weary heads, and the addition of the toasted sesame oil really lifts the flavours and helps your poorly taste buds find something tasty to latch onto. It's also perfect for ladling into a Thermos or mug to warm your cockles while you stand around the bonfire waiting for the fireworks to start.

Serves 4

1 tbs butter
1 large leek, halved lengthways and cut into 1-2cm slices. Include as much of the green as possible.
1 large carrot, halved and quartered lengthways then diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 large onion, halved and finely sliced
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of sage, finely sliced
2 tsp bouillon powder (or a mild veggie stock cube)
2 tsp mushroom ketchup (or other veggie Worcester-type sauce)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
Boiling water

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add all the veg, plus the bay leaves and chopped sage. Allow to cook over a medium heat, stirring often, until the veg is starting to soften. Add the brown sugar and stir to coat, allow to continue cooking, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the veg is fully softened but still holding together and the sugar has caramelised a little.

Add bouillon and enough water to cover the veg, stir and turn up the heat to med-high. Allow to simmer for around 10 minutes. Season with black pepper and stir through the mushroom ketchup and sesame oil.

Serve immediately with a good flavoursome bread like sourdough, walnut or olive.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Squash and Mushroom Wellington

There are still two nights to go before Bonfire Night, but I can hear fireworks exploding above the houses as I type, and we went to a grand display down at the Marina on Saturday (where the bonfire was floating on the water and was lit from a rowing boat using a flaming stick. It was amazing), so I think that means I can start feeling really properly wintry now. And that means pies, lots and lots of pies.

                                                                                                                                    (c) Becca Thorne 2014

I've never eaten Beef Wellington. Or, if I have, it wasn't as memorable as it maybe should have been. It seems like the ultimate meat-eaters' winter feast - steak, pate, mushrooms, pastry - served with crispy roast taters and a big old pile of hearty cabbage, and smothered in warming gravy. This veggie version is a bit more rough to look at than its meaty forefather, but it still retains the underlying herby, mushroomy flavours that come from the classic duxelles layer and adds the delicious, comforting tummy-hug that can only come from something wrapped in pastry.

I miss having our own supply of squashes ready and waiting, but Lidl is still providing some tasty and varied winter varieties, all listed as simply 'Winter Squash'. The one I used for this was a Carnival-type I think (the one I used for the illustration might be a Buttercup?). I've previously used Honey Bears, which are an acorn variety and have lovely, tender, bright orange flesh which is great for roasting and were perfect for this. I imagine Butternuts will do the trick, but with so many different types out there, I say embrace the variety!

Serve as suggested above, with crispy roasters, steamed savoy cabbage, onion gravy and a good ale.

Serves 4

For the pastry:
8oz plain flour
4oz cold butter, cut into cubes
pinch of salt
A little cold water

For the filling:
1/2 medium sized winter squash, deseeded and peeled, cut into rough 2cm chunks
4 large field mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only 
2 sprigs sage, leaves finely sliced
1 tsp horseradish sauce
1 tsp bouillon powder or 1/2 stock cube
100ml warm water
Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

First, make the pastry. Toss the butter cubes in the flour and salt and then, with your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until you have a rough breadcrumb consistency. Don't make it too fine, you want some larger lumps left so that the pastry will puff and flake a little in the oven. Add cold water a little at a time and combine until it comes together to form a firm dough.DOn't handle too much so as not to melt the butter. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7-8 or around 200-210C.

Next, heat the olive oil in a large pan with a lid and cook the onions over a medium heat with the bay leaf for a few minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Add the mushrooms and garlic with a good grinding of black pepper and continue cooking until the mushrooms have started to wilt and soften. Add the squash and herbs with a pinch of salt and stir well to coat everything, then allow to cook for 5 more minutes, continuing to stir frequently. Sprinkle on the bouillon/stock cube and add the water and horseradish. Stir well, cover, and cook until the squash is soft and the the water has become a small amount of thickened gravy.  Remove the bay leaf.

When the filling is ready, lightly oil a baking tray. Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the pastry to approx 30x25cm and place on the baking tray (it will probably hang over). Spoon the filling into the centre of the pastry in an oblong shape, leaving plenty of space around the edges so you'll be able to fold the pastry over. You should be able to fit all the filling in. Brush the exposed pastry with a little milk or water, then fold it over the filling, starting with the ends, then bringing the sides over to form a packet. Press the folds down lightly and brush all over with with milk, ensuring you get the joins to help secure them. Place in the centre of the oven for 15 -20 mins, or until the pastry is golden. Serve in slices.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Stilton, Leek and Sweet Potato Pie with Garlicky Carrots and Kale

And so autumn is upon us. Our recent move has found us just around the corner from a large Lidl with a surprisingly excellent veg section. While not huge, it's a lot better than the veg section at the Aldi we lived near in Leicester, and it's currently well supplied with seasonal delights - jazzy and delicious autumn squashes; ridiculously massive celeriac which I've not yet sampled for fear that they're so big they'll be woody inside; plenty of leeks - and not piddly little things, but proper, full grown, full-flavoured beauts; sprouts; cauliflower and sweet potatoes. I've somehow neglected sweet potatoes in the last few years. Every now and then I make Yotam Ottolenghi's scrumptious Sweet Potato Cakes, but otherwise I pretty much forgot they existed. More fool me. So now, as always happens when I rediscover a vegetable (it happened with aubergines too, earlier this year), I can't get enough of them. I love them as part of a big pile of roast veg or in a veggie stew with dumplings, but they were amazing in this pie with stilton and leeks. We had some carrots lurking about, and some fresh cavolo nero from Rowan's parents' garden. Drizzled with garlicky, fennely oil, they made excellent accompaniments to the pie, for a complete Sunday dinner.

                                                                                                                                                          (c) Becca Thorne 2014

Serves 2-4


For the pastry:
6oz plain flour
3oz cold butter or veg lard (eg. Trex), cubed
pinch of salt (a little more if you're using Trex)

For the filling:
3 medium-large leeks, trimmed and outer leaves removed, cut into 1cm thick rounds
1 good-sized sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1-2cm chunks
1 large clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
Approx 100g stilton, cubed
2-3 sprigs of sage, leaves only, finely sliced
Approx 1/4 pint ale
Plain flour
1 Tbs butter
Approx 300ml veg stock
A few drops mushroom ketchup or vegetarian Worcester sauce

For the sides:
2 carrots per person, halved and quartered
1 large clove garlic
Pinch of fennel seeds (optional)
Good bunch of cavolo nero leaves, or other dark green brassica (eg. kale or savoy cabbage)
Olive oil
Sea salt flakes (eg. Maldon)

Preheat the oven to around 220C. Start by making the pastry - combine the salt and flour, then rub in the butter cubes with your fingers to make a rough bread-crumby consistency. It doesn't need to be perfect. Add just enough cold water to bring the crumbs together into a dough, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

Next, start on the filling. Heat a slug of olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and cook the leeks, sweet potato, garlic and sage, stirring frequently to prevent burning. While this is cooking, melt the tablespoon of butter in a small pan over a low heat. When fully melted, remove from the heat and stir in just enough flour to make a smooth roux - start with no more than a tbs of flour. Add a little more if needed, or a little oil if you make it too dry. Return to the heat and add the stock and mushroom ketchup/Worcester sauce, a little at a time, stirring until it's all combined and you have a thick, creamy sauce.

When the veg is softened but still retains its shape, add a pinch of salt, a good grinding of black pepper and the ale. Stir to coat and allow the liquid to reduce. When nearly all the ale is gone, stir in the sauce and the stilton. Transfer to a pie dish.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out on a flour-dusted surface to no more than 0.5cm thick. Place the pastry over the pie dish and gradually twist up the over-hanging edges up so that they create a raised, pasty-like rim around the edge of the dish, gently pressing them down as you go to create a seal. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make two small holes in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape and brush the lid with a little milk (I used Koko dairy free). Place in the centre of the pre-heated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes. You may want to place a baking tray on the shelf below to catch any drips that bubble over.

Check on the pie after about 10 minutes and, when it's starting to go golden, put the cavolo nero/kale on to steam (the younger the leaves the less time it will need, so take this into account). Five minutes after that the carrots can go into the water beneath the steamer. While the veg is on, heat approx 2tbs good olive oil in a small pan over a low heat, and add the garlic and fennel seeds. Watch it carefully to ensure the garlic doesn't brown, and after a few minutes you should start to smell the garlic beginning to mellow. At the first hint of it changing colour remove the pan from the heat.

Remove the pie from the oven when it's a good golden brown and allow torest and settle down a little before serving. The cavalo nero should be ready in 10-15 minutes and the carrots after 5. When they're ready, transfer them to a dish, sprinkle with a good pinch of sea salt flakes and toss them in the garlic oil, with all the seeds and bits included. Bon appetit!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Ciambella con Frutta Secca, or Mummy Thorne's Little Cakes Recipe

We're back in the UK now, currently homeless but staying with Rowan's parents in Rutland while we find a place to live in Nottingham. We visited my parents in the Forest of Dean at the weekend, and spent Sunday meandering around Malvern and eating a tasty pub lunch at British Camp, followed by a tentative rummage through the pile of furniture and crap we stored in their barn to find our cooler weather clothes, taking great care not to disturb the bat guano scattered all over the protective dust sheets.

 My mum almost always has a batch of her delicious fruit cake-style fairy cakes ready for us when we visit. In our family they're affectionately known as Little Cakes to distinguish them from mum's normal-sized fruit cakes (she makes an excellent fruit cake too). They're incredibly simple, and to me they taste comfortingly of home; memories of lazy Sunday evenings spent watching Ski Sunday and the Antiques Roadshow, eating sandwiches made from leftover roast, mum's coleslaw and homemade pickled onions, with Little Cakes for pudding. I used her recipe while we were in Italy to make a very tasty ciambella - a sort of Italian Bundt cake - during a big thunderstorm. I adapted it a little to make it a bit more ciambella-y (I added marsala), but otherwise this is all my mum's recipe, and it worked just as well for ciambella as for fairy cakes.

                                                                                                                    (c) Becca Thorne 2014

This makes either one ciambella or approximately 12 little cakes. It's in ounces, as that's how mum gave it to me (she's been making these a long time), and I used this page to convert the original quantities to cups as I had no scales.

8oz plain flour
6oz butter
4oz sugar
2 eggs
2tsp baking powder
8oz dried mixed fruit/sultanas
A little milk - dairy or non-dairy
Optional: a generous glass of marsala or the tasty liquid of your choice - brandy, whisky, amaretto, sherry or Earl Grey tea would all work well - plus just enough apple or orange juice to cover the dried fruit in a small mixing bowl. Omit the milk if you do this.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

If using, soak the fruit in the marsala and juice for 10-15 minutes.

Lightly grease your ciambella pan, or line your fairy cake moulds with cake papers.
Cream the butter and sugar together until fairly smooth. Using a wooden spoon, beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a tablespoon or so of flour with each to prevent curdling.
Fold in the rest of the flour and the baking powder. If the mixture feels a little stiff or dry, add either a little milk or, if using, the soaking liquid from the fruit, to loosen it up to a good dropping consistency. Fold in the fruit.
Spoon the mixture into your pan or papers. If making individual cakes, sprinkle with a little demerera sugar. Bake in the centre of your oven for 15-20 mins until golden and a clean, sharp knife inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then remove onto a wire rack to cool fully. Keeps well in an airtight box for several days.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom risotto was the first dish that I ever really wanted to cook myself, and since I mastered it it's been a staple. I first tried making it on a whim when I was a student in Falmouth; I consulted no recipes so had none of the right ingredients and no idea what I was doing. I allowed the mushrooms to get too wet, used cheap mild cheddar in place of parmesan, used no wine and, the biggest sin of all, used American long grain rice instead of risotto rice. The result was... disappointing, to say the least. The mushroom juices combined with the cheddar to create a gluey film around the rice which gunked up my fork and my teeth, the rice was stodgy and yet it was still all rather wet. It nearly put me off cooking for good, but I love mushroom risotto so much I tried again a few years later, this time after doing some research and getting the right ingredients. It turned out to be incredibly simple to make and it's been one of my quick n lazy recipes ever since. It's so easy to make that I've never had to write it down before.

                                                                                                                                                                   (c) Becca Thorne 2014

A lot of recipes suggest using parsley; I tend not to bother, but it makes a fresh addition for a more summery flavour if you fancy it. Porcini aren't strictly necessary either, but they make for a much richer, more intense flavour, so if you've got them, use them. Risotto is incredibly versatile, but there are a few basic rules you should follow when making it with any veg:
First, you have to use a risotto or paella rice. Without it you won't get the smooth creaminess that comes from the abundance of starch the fat little grains release. Arborio is generally the cheapest, and the variety you're most likely to find in UK supermarkets, but there are lots of others choose from too.
Second, ignore all the usual rice-making rules. Risotto should be cooked with the lid off and stirred often. This encourages the release of those all important starch molecules and stops everything sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Third, you really need the wine. Prefereably a medium or dry white, even if it's the cheapest dry white you can find, but don't try using sweet or rose as I once did after someone gave us a bottle of nasty Zinfandel. It's not pleasant.

Another thing to consider is the mushrooms themselves. While we've been in Moglietta we've been buying a big tub of oyster mushrooms every time we've gone food shopping, and they've created a slightly more delicate and fragrant, but no less deliciously mushroomy, risotto. When we lived near St Nicholas Market in Bristol we'd buy amazing chestnut mushrooms from the farmer's market there that made the risotto amazingly nutty, warming and autumnal. The white closed-cups you get in supermarkets will do, but it goes without saying that the more flavoursome the mushroom the more flavoursome the risotto.

Serves 2

Approx 1 standard punnet mushrooms, sliced
Small handful of dried porcini, soaked in approx 200ml boiling water for 10-20 mins (optional)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or crushed
1 cup arborio (or other risotto) rice - I use a small mug
1 pint hot mushroom or veg stock
1 glass white wine
parmesan/pecorino type cheese, grated (approx 25-50g)
black pepper
olive oil
handful of chopped parsley (optional)

Heat a slug of olive oil over a medium heat and cook the mushrooms and garlic, with plenty of black pepper, stirring periodically to prevent the garlic burning. When the mushrooms have softened, browned and released their juices and the liquid has begun to reduce, add the rice, stir to thoroughly coat the grains in the remaining mushroom juices, then stir in the wine and allow it to bubble away until it's reduced. This should take just a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the now soft and rehydrated porcini from their soaking water and chop them into small pieces, then add them to the pan. Use the soaking water in the stock.

Once the wine has been absorbed, turn up the heat to med-high, and start adding the stock. Do this bit-by-bit, adding eg. a quarter to a third of the liquid and allowing it to be almost entirely absorbed before adding the next portion. Stir frequently to prevent burning and to encourage the starch to be released from the rice. Do this until all the stock has been used up and the rice is soft, but the grains are still distinctly separate and retain a little bite without getting stuck in your teeth. You want the sauce to have a creamy, velvety consistency - loose without being wet (the rice shouldn't be swimming in liquid). Add grated parmesan to taste and stir well to combine. Add the parsley if using and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Minty Broad Bean 'Pesto'

As it's so sunny here in Italy right now, it seems appropriate that my first post should be something summery and fresh. I love broad beans. The first meal of the year to use fresh broad beans is always a treat that heralds summer and bears the promise of more homegrown delights to come. Any normal year we'd have eaten tonnes of the fat green beauties by now, but this year is not normal. If you follow my illustration blog or any of my social media you'll know that my partner and I recently moved out of our house in Leicester, where we've been for the past four years, and are currently travelling in Europe before a move to Nottingham. That means we've had to give up our allotment, and I miss it far more than I imagined, but fortunately my in-laws gave us a load of their broad beans before we left, so we didn't miss out completely!

We took such a large bagful from their veg patch that I found myself having to find ways to use them up before they went off, thus this minty 'pesto' was born. Not only is it perfect when you've got a glut, it's also fabulously fresh-tasting, gloriously green and incredibly moreish. I'm usually firmly against the peeling of broad beans, but as this recipe is so very simple it doesn't seem such a pain and I felt it really needed it - not only does it enhance the wonderful green colour, but it also makes the sauce good and smooth too. There are a gazillion different methods for shelling broad beans, so use whichever method you think best, but I steamed them until they were soft and the skins were starting to burst, ran them under cold water until they were cool enough to handle and then a gentle squeeze popped them out easily.

I used this as a pasta sauce, but it would also make a delicious dip and was just as tasty cold as leftovers for lunch. Good for approx 250g dried pasta.

                                                          (c) Becca Thorne 2014

Approx 400g podded broad beans, steamed and shelled 
2 decent-sized garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Good handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Small handful of parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
Approx 25g nuts (eg. hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews), roughly chopped
Approx 25g parmesan/pecorino style cheese, grated
Juice of 1 lime
Good olive oil (this recipe uses a lot of it, so use the best oil you can as the flavour will come through)
Sea salt flakes (eg. Maldon)

Put all the ingredients except the salt and olive oil into a bowl or blender. Add a good slug of olive oil and blend until smooth, adding more oil if necessary. The mix will be probably be a bit stiff and sticky, so keep stirring in more olive oil until it reaches a nice, pesto-y consistency; you want it to be loose, smooth and everso slightly oily (if you're using it as a dip it can be left stiffer, but if you're making a pasta sauce it needs to be able to coat the pasta without becoming dried out - you can always add more oil later if in doubt). The flavour should be fresh and lightly minted with a hint of lime and the salty tang of pecorino. Add sea salt to taste and eat as soon as possible.