Holiday Mince Pies

This time last year, I was preparing for Christmas in London – buying sweaters, confirming the cat sitter, excavating the converter from the junk drawer, and dreaming of mince pies.

Christmas in London without mince pies is unthinkable.  These little parcels of perfection are as ubiquitous during the London holidays as sugar cookies in the States.  Love them or hate them, you can’t avoid them while the halls are decked with holly.  I, personally, adore these pastry jewels and longingly anticipated eating my weight in pies of mince. 

Mincemeat has a history dating back to the 16th century.  Originally made with meat (hence the name), the pies were much larger and oblong in shape.  The fruit and spices, rather than headliners, were there to flavor the meat.  Modern versions are smaller and forgo the meat altogether, containing a decadent mixture of fruit, sugar and warming spices. Their size can range from a diminutive mini tartlet to something heftier approximating the size of a British pasty.

As I walked the cobbled streets of London, I sampled a dozen versions of these buttery beauties.  My first, from St. John Bread and Wine, was a disappointment, filled with almost nothing but currants.  Their Eccles cake, on the other hand, was heaven in puff pastry.   I sampled posh pies at Ottolenghi and take-away pies from a small no-name shop at the Columbia Road Flower Market.  I ate pies served from bags and pies served on china.  Arteries be damned, I prescribed myself nothing less than a pie (or two) a day throughout my trip. Home again after eating my fill in London, I added mince pies to my ever-growing list of recipes to try.

 A tumultuous year has passed and I had yet to try my own version.  Surprisingly, while researching  for my own recipe,  I discovered that many versions – including ones from famous British chefs (I’m talking to you, Paul Hollywood) call for nothing more than opening a jar of mincemeat.  Jarred?  Oh the horror!  Jarred may be fine in a pinch, but not for the pies of my London dreams.  Next, you’ll be instructing me to unroll a frozen pie crust.

After some additional research,  I settled on my existing Eccles cake filling (flashback to St. John), doubled it, and added grated apple.  My final filling is packed with currants, home-made candied orange peel, brown sugar, warming spices and brandy.  It’s the ideal jeweled filling to nestle in a buttery pastry crust.  Maybe not entirely traditional, for me, it’s London Christmas in the US suburbs.


Holiday Mince Pies

Buttery, flaky pastry filled with a holiday mixture of fruit, warm spices, and a bit of brandy. You will need two 12-cup muffin tins for this recipe.


Ingredients

    Candied Orange Peel:
  • Peels from 3 oranges
  • 18 oz. water
  • 6 oz. corn syrup
  • 20 oz. sugar
  • Mince Filling:
  • 8 oz. currants
  • ½ cup candied orange peel, chopped
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated (I use Granny Smith)
  • 1 stick (½cup) unsalted butter
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • Juice of an orange
  • 2 Tablespoons brandy
  • Short Crust Pastry:
  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter cold and cubed
  • ¼ cup Crisco, cold
  • ⅛ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • Water (cold, as needed)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Directions

    Make Ahead – Make Candied Orange Peel:
  1. Place orange peels in a pot of cold water, bring to boil, and drain. Repeat this two more times.
  2. Combine water, corn syrup, and sugar in a pot. Bring to boil. Add drained peels, reduce to simmer and poach for 1 hour. Cool peels in syrup. Store in syrup in refrigerator until needed.
  3. Day Before – Make Mince Filling:
  4. Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 1-2 minutes until butter is melted. Stir until well blended, cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften, about an hour. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
  5. Baking Day – Make Short Crust Pastry.
  6. In a food processor, pulse flour, butter, Crisco, and salt together until resembling course sand. Gently pulse egg and add water until mixture just comes together. Wrap into two disks and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350⁰ degrees. Roll dough to ⅛” thick and cut circles with a 3 ¼” – 3 ½” cutter to fit inside muffin tins. Cut smaller circles or stars to fit on top. Press dough into each muffin cup and fill ⅔ full with mince filling, decorate with smaller shapes on top and refrigerate until ready to bake.
  7. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Bake for 22-28 minutes until tops are golden brown. Cool in tins for 15 minutes, remove from tins and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (if using).

TIP: To ensure the flakiest of crusts, freeze butter and Crisco for 15 minutes before using so that it is cold as possible before mixing with the flour.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcake

Today’s Musings:  TRUST YOUR GUT

I tell him I don’t like talking on the phone
He says he won’t ask me out via text
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him I prefer coffee or a cocktail for a first date
He asks me out for dinner
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him casual is good for me
He says, “It will be casual but upper scale.” He’s a “sucker for fine dining.”
I relent
He’s not listening.

What troubles me more – my easy acquiescence or his utter disregard for my desires?  I soothe my concerns.  “Am I making too big a deal about this?” “He wants to treat me well; what’s wrong with that?”  TRUST YOUR GUT – the gift my last relationship gave me. 

I text him this morning.  Let’s start with a cocktail and go from there – please and thank you.  For once in my life, I’m setting boundaries.  He declines, speaking volumes. 

I’m thanking my gut for its sage advice with these little treats below. 

Today’s Recipe:  REWARD YOUR GUT


Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12 generous cupcakes
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Sticky toffee bombs. If making 12, the batter will rise beautifully over the side of the tin. If you need to make a few more cupcakes, reduce the batter in each muffin tin slightly.


Ingredients

    Toffee Sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, spiced rum, or brandy
  • Cupcakes
  • 7 oz. ( 1 ¼ cups) coarsely chopped dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ⅓ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • Slightly sweetened whipped cream

Directions

  1. For Toffee Sauce: Whisk sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add cream and bring to boil. Boil, whisking constantly, until toffee thickly coats the back of a spoon, 10-14 minutes. Whisk in rum. Set aside.
  2. For Cakes: Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan. Boil until dates are soft, about 2 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Line 12 muffin cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter to blend – the mixture will be grainy. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the date mixture, beating to blend. Divide batter among muffin cups (about ¼ cup each).
  4. Bake cupcakes until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cook cakes completely on a rack. Using a cupcake corer, make a core in each cupcake and fill with 3-4 Tablespoons of toffee sauce. You may need to wait for some of the sauce to absorb before adding more sauce. Replace cupcake core.
  5. Cover cupcakes with piped whipped cream and a drizzle of additional toffee sauce. [Note: for best results, the cupcakes should be served at room temperature, yet the whipped cream needs to be kept cold. You can keep the cupcakes on the counter and add the whipped cream and drizzle just before serving. Your gut will thank you.

** Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes

Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

I’ve started yet another writing class.  This one is specifically geared towards blog writing.  If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you know that I struggle (or downright ignore) trying to connect the introduction (this part) and the actual recipe I’ve created.  Anyone in the blogging world knows this is a mortal sin, yet I lack any desire to blather on about the benefits of store-bought rotisserie chicken (although it CAN be a time-saver, especially in a soup like this one). 

I have a suspicion I’m taking this class hoping for validation – from the instructor, from my fellow bloggers – that, although not orthodox to mismatch intro and recipe, it’s my damn blog and I can do whatever I want. I know I don’t need outside validation, but a bit of encouragement doesn’t hurt now and then. 

Our first assignment is determining our target audience, aka my ideal reader.  What’s her name? What’s she like? What does she do?  Where does she read my blog?  WHY does she read my blog? Essentially, who is my muse? [Side Note:  I HAD a muse for a number of years, but his presence in my life became problematic and I’ve had to move on.]

My new muse is Chloe.  Chloe is 35, a struggling photographer living in a loft in our suburban “downtown” arts district.  She’s got time on her hands – time to cook real meals for real friends.  Her dining table is a wobbly Ikea purchase covered with an old sarong.  Her chairs are mismatched; the wine glasses too – gorgeous pale pink and green thrift-store finds.  She spends her money on antique costume jewelry and the finest chocolates she can get her hands on.  She loves my sweet vermouth and I bring her a bottle often.

Chloe and I meet every week for coffee at a cozy shop two blocks from her loft that always smells of yeast and freshly roasted beans.  We’re bored with the same conversations everyone is having – about how they’re surviving COVID distancing, about what their kids are up to, about their latest intermittent fasting diet or doctor’s visit.  So, Chloe and I decided we each must bring two things to our coffee dates – an interesting story that happened during the week (or, if the event wasn’t interesting, the story must be entertaining) and our newest recipe.  We share over our cappuccinos.

Ta-Da! And just like that – justification for this mismatched blog.

This soup recipe is my last installment in the “Soup Sundays” series.  Over the next few days, I’ll be thumbing through my collection of recipes deciding what’s up next for November.  As always, I’ll be baking – it IS the beginning of the holiday season, after all, but my cholesterol level needs a hiatus from my holy trinity diet of butter, sugar and flour.  A carrot now and again isn’t a bad thing. 


Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

Copious amounts of lime give an added twist to this easy soup. Store-bought rotisserie chicken keeps it fuss-free.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 corn tortillas, cut into strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons diced chipotles in adobo (found in the Hispanic section of most markets)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 14-oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped with juice
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry tortilla strips until golden. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.
  2. In a large saucepan, sauté bell pepper and onion until softened and beginning to turn golden in spots. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add chipotles, cumin, and tomatoes with juice and combine. Add chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes until vegetables are soft.
  3. Add chicken, cilantro, oregano and lime juice and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve soup sprinkled with tortilla strips.

S’mores Cupcakes

My dear friend, Chris, is often encouraging me to include more “me” in my food photos – a video of me, all smiles, whisking up a cake, photos of me removing freshly-baked cookies from my professional-grade Thermador in my immaculate kitchen, me proudly holding my latest tart creation in my vintage apron.  If that’s what Chris imagines when he envisions me in the kitchen, who am I to correct him?  The reality is decidedly less glamourous.  On most days, you’ll find me barefoot, my unkempt hair pulled back in some odd top-knot, braless, sans makeup, and wearing last night’s pj’s.  When I’m in bake mode, I’m all in, girly glamour be damned. 

So, when the stars align and I manage to bake something divine AND get dolled up on the same day (in this case, Halloween), I feel I owe it to Chris to share a bit of both my worlds. Thank you, my friend, for always encouraging me.


S’mores Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Graham cracker crust and sinfully dark chocolate cake, topped with a pillowy swirl of toasted, sticky marshmallow meringue make for a decadent dessert – no campfire needed. This recipe makes a lot of frosting, so don’t skimp on your swirl.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 2 cups Graham crackers crumbs
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Marshmallow Meringue Frosting
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions


1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line 24 cupcake tins with liners. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and salt together until it resembles wet sand. Place a rounded tablespoon of crust mixture at the bottom on each liner and press firmly with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup. Bake for about 5 minutes until lightly golden.
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee granules and salt. Combine oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Add water to oil mixture. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake 18- 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes and to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan filled with 1-2” of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the vanilla. Whisk on high speed for 5-6 minutes until stiff and glossy.
4. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Using a kitchen torch, toast meringue frosting.

Classic Pea Soup

She came to me in a dream…and had all the answers.

Do you ever have those dreams that impart so much truth, wisdom, and clarity that you commit to remembering every bit upon waking? 

I had one of those dreams the other night – the message was relevant and so dreadfully important.  The key to my happiness was locked in its meaning.  If I could remember, my life would transform. As I stirred from sleep, the details scattered from my mind like raindrops flung from my opening eyelashes.  Oh, the horror!  Of course, securing life’s answer is never that simple.  

I’ve been talking with a friend lately about metamorphosis and transformation.  Why do we confine ourselves to be the person we have scripted?  I’ve spoken before about our personal “story” – the story that we’ve concocted to describe ourselves…something to put behind the “I.”  “I am this,” “I do that,” and “I like those.” When we do so, we conscribe our own possibilities.

So, what did my dream have to tell me?  Alas, the details are gone, but snippets are still fluttering in my mind.  My dream was about things that hold us back from true transformation – from radically changing our story. 

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success – “who am I to deserve this?”
  • Idleness – why bother, I’m content where I am
  • Comfort in the known – transformation is inherently uncomfortable
  • Morals, values and laws that may no longer apply, serve a purpose, or be correct – society’s and our own personal beliefs
  • The opinion of others
  • The energy to make it happen – with barely the strength to get through the week, how do we find the strength to transform?

If we can overcome these obstacles, then true, lasting, profound change can be ours, but that, my friend, is a difficult road.

The key to everlasting happiness may be elusive,  but a bowl of comforting and fleeting happiness can be found in this hearty and soul-satisfying pea soup.  Enjoy!


Classic Pea Soup

  • Servings: Serves 6-8
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Enjoy this hearty, smoky, classic pea soup on a chilly fall evening with crusty bread and a simple pear salad.


Ingredients

  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cups dried green split peas
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • Sour cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onions and cook until the onions are soft. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Add the split peas and stir to combine. Add the broth and the ham hock and bring to a boil.
  2. Turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. If soup is too thick, add a little more broth. The soup is ready when the peas are soft, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
  3. Transfer the ham onto a cutting board and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones, shred, and stir back into the soup (discard the bones and any skin). Remove bay leaves and season with salt, pepper and finish with white vinegar. To serve, dollop with sour cream (if using).