Wintry Sweetness



My last post touched on the dessert side of English Christmas dinner and with Christmas far behind us I want to mention that the Brits will eat their “crimble pud’ all year round !

The enormous amount of rich foods presented to your loved ones on the 25th of December really doesn’t allow for true savoring of the traditional Christmas Pudding , or plum pudding or figgy pudding , or …or….or……. call it what you want to , despite that it’s still a booze bomb that is strictly for the grown-ups ( if you make it my way , at least!) and everyone still manages a piece.

The pudding is traditionally made at least a month before christmas , as this allows it to mature and get all squishy and gorgeous. Also it allows plenty of time to pour alcohol into this confection , rather like putting petrol into your car but, unlike that, with the xmas pudding there really is never “too much” ; every few days you can unwrap the baby and nurse it with ‘medicine’ .

I always used sherry and brandy in the mix and cognac as a soaking agent after the pudding was made, but since my years in the Caribbean I have come to love dark rum in this bundle of fruity spicy joy.



So……. ::gulp:: ……. I’ll be completely up front and honest with you at this stage; I have no recipe for this …… I’M SORRY, DON’T JUDGE ME! I am one of those nightmarish people that rarely follows a recipe. I have a notion of cooking , as you know, and I have it all in my head. so I have included the above picture showing you the basic ingredients of Chrissy Pudding.

Oh, and to add insult to injury ? I made it on Christmas Eve and it tasted like it had been maturing for a decade. I had been busy with other stuff , ok?!

The way I did it was to take a good handful of pitted prunes, cut them with scissors into a bowl, threw on top a handful of raisins, a huge handful of sultanas and then doused the lot with Rum. I left that covered at room temperature overnight to get acquainted.

Next day I took about a third of a large loaf of bread ; any bread will do but trying to be healthy and using whole grain/bran/wheat bread really doesn’t cut it … we need WHITE , BLEACHED, and SQUIDGY for the ultimate “at home” Texture. Trust me , you’ll thank me . Whatever…. back to the bread… zoom it in a processor to crumb it , or grate it yourself or chop it but make sure it’s crumbs. Throw it in a bowl with a coffee cup of flour, a coffee cup of chopped almonds, a teaspoon of cinnamon , same of all spice, about half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg, a teaspoon of Bicarbonate of soda, a half teaspoon of salt and two coffee cups of dark brown sugar…. now when I say “coffee cup” I don’t mean the type of bucket my brother or my significant other would drink coffee from , I mean a regular pre-war coffee cup sized coffee cup . Mix all of that together well .


I then grated a couple of carrots, the zest of an orange and a large lemon, squeezed the juice of both and threw all of that together with three eggs, a coffee cup of dark syrup (not maple) a half teaspoon each of Vanilla essence and Almond essence and a half a pack of COLD butter grated. mix that well and add , with the soaked fruit , to the crumby flour spice sugar mix.

Stir ,

stir as if your life depended on it and WISH ! All wishes made whilst stirring christmas pudding come true so do what I do and close your eyes and stir with each syllable of the wish. Then invite any other people in the house to do the same . It’s lame , but such a nice feeling.

Line a heatproof pudding bowl , pyrex bowl/dish with baking parchment ( I just grease it well with some butter and push the paper in ) and then pour in as much of the mix as possible. Fold the top edge of the parchment over the mixture , then wrap the whole bowl in Aluminium foil TWICE so it’s completely sealed. Do the same with more bowls if you have them; made two from my mix .

Place the bowl on top of a saucer in the largest pan you have and pour boiling water around it until almost to the top . Cover and bring back to a boil , lower the heat to simmer and cook for about 3 hrs. Check the water level now and then and top up with boiling water when necessary . This year however , I put the pudding bowl in a slow cooker (crock pot ) added boiling water and cooked it overnight on the lowest setting for ten hours. That’s how I discovered that the slow cook method develops the flavour and creates a texture very close to that of a matured pudding made well in advance.

Next morning I opened up the foil and, whilst blissed-out on the warm spicy aroma, doused that puppy with about a quarter of a bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. Wrapped it up again and let it sit until serving time.

When The turkey was done and the dinner was ready , I switched off the oven and put the wrapped pudding in and forgot about it until we were ready to serve it….. about two hours I believe ( wine was being thrown around like it was christmas or something! ) by which time it was nicely warmed through.

We ( I was drunkenly being inebriatedly assisted at this point ) unwrapped it and turned it out onto an appropriately festive plate, transported it to the centre of the table  and sprinkled this dark brown monument to flavour with some white crystal sugar . The trick is then to quickly pour a shot glass of rum over the top and igniting the whole with a match…… this moment is always greeted with an enthusiastic “ooh” and “aah” from the table and actually does do something caramelly to the flavour. With a feeling of relief and smoldering eyebrows, I served timid portions (due to the overextension of our waistbands over the previous couple of wine soaked and turkey filled hours) with an impressive scoop of Rum Butter or Hard Sauce (if you like) and I kid you not ….. we had seconds!


To make Rum ( or Brandy ) Butter hard sauce?

Half a pound of salted butter; none of this unsalted malarky. Cream it with a cup of powder sugar until white and fluffy … that means :  when you think it’s enough beat it some more.

While still whisking gradually add about a shot glass full of whatever flammable liquid you have decided upon and mix well . If it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to separate/curdle add a second shot glass , if it does look a bit ‘separatey’ add a couple of teaspoons more powder sugar and beat until smooth. Chill until firm.

If I’m correct , there’s a picture of a lovely Pear , some sugar and a bottle of wine at the top of this post…. that was for the next part of the piece, but I think I may be typed out at the moment. Luckily I have a livener behind me in the kitchen … the second pudding is amazing at cocktail hour ; CHEERS !




English Christmas in the USA

After a few years not really celebrating christmas in any particular way , the time had come to show my new American Family how we do it on the other side of the pond. Explaining traditional English Christmas dinner reduces the quintessential to English Holiday meal to  ” well … it’s kind of the same as Thanksgiving Dinner , but different” .

Even rereading the last statement feels like a disappointment , but the reality was anything but that………


The Location for this feast was Utana Bluffs , a gorgeous private mountain community just outside Ellijay in North Georgia. The Park/Hart family have their home there and the surroundings just screamed “Christmas”.

The day began with the preparation of the stuffing for the 14lb organic turkey .

1lb of Pork sausage meat, 2 large onions – finely chopped , half a loaf of white bread- cubed, half a pint of good chicken stock , a bunch of fresh sage – chopped finely, a bunch of fresh rosemary – chopped, 2 granny smith apples – peeled, cored and also finely chopped, fresh ground black pepper.

Bring the stock to a boil and pour over the bread and stand for a few minutes so the bread can absorb the liquid.

Add the chopped ingredients and ground pepper and mix well , then knead the sausage meat into that. Tadaah!


I stuffed the crop of the turkey, pushing the stuffing up under the skin and over the breast .

The leftover stuffing I pressed into a pie dish and topped with more apple to serve on the side .


Then the Turkey! I stabbed the breast All over and then mummified it in bacon . As I said, I only stuffed the crop , pushing the stuffing as far over the breast as possible and put a bunch of sage and a whole lemon inside the cavity .


Foiled it and roasted it on 350 ( convection ) for About four hours . When I took the aluminium foil off it was like I had slow cooked it for a day . It was tender and moist with a crisp bacon crust . I put it back in the oven for a half hour to brown . Slicing through the breast meat you got an evenly sized slice of the sage onion and apple stuffing . The sage and lemon and onion had infused the meat from inside out .


Sexy , Huh?


For the Sides I had decided on the traditional English parsnip, carrots and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. Of course , I can’t just “do carrots” so I made a mousseline of parsnip apple and carrot


Parsnips peeled and chopped … I love the scented almost ‘perfumey’ aroma of these root vegetables.


Large Carrots, cut roughly the same size.


Add an onion , some fresh rosemary and cover with chicken stock. bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. drain, remove the soggy woody twiggy rosemary drama without burning you fingers too much and throw into a blender/food processor with a good sized chunk of butter, a pinch of salt , freshly ground pepper, a teaspoonful of ground coriander and one granny smith apple peeled, core and finely chopped.Puree until velvety smooth ….. O . M . G . this is heavenly.


The potatoes…. so , you want to know how I became the king of oven roasted potatoes?


Take firm cooking potatoes… wash them well and take out any eyes and blemishes. Cut the ends off diagonally so you have three pieces , triangular and of even size . Cover with very well salted water and bring to the boil. Par-boil for ten minutes. Drain and lay out on the counter to cool.

Pour the meat juices into a roasting tin , if there isn’t a half inch depth I add oil, light olive is nice.

Heat on 375f/ 220c in the oven ( or on the stove) and throw in the potatoes. DON’T move them … just put them back in the oven and give em about 35 minutes before you hustle them around in the fat . THAT’S the secret to crispy potatoes. Mine are even crispy as leftovers the next day . After you have tossed them around in the pan give them another 30 minutes… That’s it .dsc09149

Other Traditional accompaniments to English Christmas dinner are gravy and bread sauce , but first the Crack- Cocaine of all festive nibbles…. Sausage and Bacon rolls.

Sausage and bacon rolls have no other function in the meal other than to make your hand /fork keep moving back and forth to the dish with the verbal statement ” I HAVE to stop eating these Sausage and bacon rolls” .

They are extremely simple to make with ready made ‘chipolata’ sausages but of course I have to be all fancy and do my own.

1lb sausage meat / pork , pork and beef or turkey.

I added garlic, a little fennel , some fresh thyme, and grated lemon zest ( to tie it in with the Turkey) black and white pepper and a splash of brandy for fun. mix it all together and form into little one inch long sausagettes . roll these in bacon ( I used uncured organic smoked) and place them on a baking sheet .Bake along with the potatoes just before dinner is ready .


Then Bread Sauce.

BREAD….. made into a sauce . with milk . I know how it sounds and the Americans had a perplexed look when I mentioned that that was what we had instead of gravy . Served with a rather neutral meat like turkey, this smooth aromatic and unctuous smothering is one of the most humble and at the same time luxurious accompaniments you can imagine …. and I’m of the opinion if they were serving it 500 years ago it must be good , Believe it or not the English kitchen was once one of the most revered and envied in Europe and this is the kind of delight that was the envy of the European Courts of that time.


I used  a pint of milk, put it in a pan with a knob of butter , a chopped onion , 3 bay leaves, 5 cloves, a piece of mace, 6 pepper corns, a pinch of salt an a pinch of sugar. bring up to a gentle simmer and then remove from the heat and allow the spices to steep for a couple of hours .

Just before dinner strain the milk into a second pan and reheat. Add 2 cups of fresh white breadcrumbs (or 100g) and stir well until smooth . Stir in some freshly grated nutmeg just before serving…… awe…… some.


This+ Turkey= angel doing something on your blissbuds.

So after all that kitchen slavery nonsense I needed a cocktail…. Captain Morgan Spiced rum, half apple cider and a splash of coke, garnish with a slice of sour apple.  The rum and spice are warming and festive, the caffeine in the coke will give you a kick towards a few hours at the table and the malic acid in the apple will aid digestion… really , it’s all science. “pour me another” I said often on that day… in the name of eduction and knowledge ‘n stuff.


The table was set while I was doing all of the above , and the surroundings were perfect for the feast that followed.


It was such a hit !


There will be a follow up about the Hell-on-Earth that is English Christmas dinner desserts but as a teaser here is one of the most enormous tiny treats ever , the Great British Mince Pie…. a buffet of flavourful sweetness in a fun-size pastry crust …. more to come …………….


Pasta i Basta …. or , How I got my carb-groove back


Being a Brit , my memories of Pasta stem from the mid 80’s ; it was first offered to me as Spaghetti Bolognese made by my ” adventurous ” cook of a Dad . The two foot long blue and yellow paper package had me tingling with awe and excitement …. Napolina , it was called , like the canned peeled plum tomatoes in tomato juice. Unfortunately for us the tomatoes found no place in the “Bolognese” part of the dish….none of that tomato or “herbs” nonesense in our Spag Bol; boiled spaghetti with a dry, crumbly, peppery, garlicky minced beef ‘streusel’ was how Dad liked his hip new carbs. Moistened with copious amounts of Tesco tomato ketchup I adored this diversion from the standard fare of the average UK household, my ignorance was bliss and my years of pastaphilia commenced. The Yuppy superfood was better for you than potatoes, less fattening than bread and could be served with fries at your local Pub . How on Earth these assumptions came to be defies imagination.


At some point , I dont know quite when exactly, I became far to important and sophisticated to want pasta on my plate “Oh , God ! Pasta?!” …… “I don’t like Pasta”….. “Pasta is Passée ” . This went on for a good few years, I jumped on the no carb bandwagon with the rest of them and that was that.

Well, in the past year I have rediscovered the satisfying joy of a bowl of steaming golden “maccheroni”; it’s like a down comforter for your tummy. My significant other disappeared during one of our frequent “Happy Hours” this summer and returned with a couple dishes of “oh, seriously?!” . My wine induced apetite was the key back into the kingdom! The Penne was perfectly cooked, tender with that slightest hint of bite, the colour was warm gold speckled with chopped basil and garlic, glistening with melted butter and olive oil…. between greasy lipped sips of red wine I devoured the mountain and held up my bowl with a timid ” is there any more?” Pasta is awesome! there… I said it … I’m back!

Admittedly the level of OMG is very much dependent on the quality of the pasta and what you put on it…. nevertheless if the pasta ain’t good it doesn’t matter how much crap you put on it… it’s not going to shine. A good quality product should stand up on its own, just a drizzle of butter/oil, some fresh herbs and a scattering of parmesan should be the Clothing , the Pasta should be the body, the main attraction.


So if you want that beautiful body you can better make it yourself; trust me, the result is not like anything you’ll buy from the store and dump from a plastic plastic pack into hot water.

I have a Pasta roller but I wanted to see how easy it would be to roll and cut the dough by hand and I have to say, if you have time to kill it’s a really calming activity…. mixing , kneading, rolling , folding , rolling , folding …………..

  • 2 to 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the work surface and the dough)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl … I chopped it through with a regular dinner knife.

When it’s all nice and together in one lump , tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the hell out of it… I’m talking like a good 20 minutes. If it becomes sticky just sprinkle a little more flour on the surface and it should be fine.


When the dough is silky smooth , not sticky and stands in a nice firm ball , cover it and let it  relax for about half an hour.


When the strength has returned to your arms, scatter a little more flour onto a large surface and roll out the dough into a long oval strip. fold one side into the middle and the other side over that. you’ll then have a square/rectangular piece of dough open at two ends.


Roll with the open ends vertically placed until you have a long rectangular strip and fold like you did the first time. then again roll with the open ends vertically placed only rolling in one direction …up and down. keep on doing this until you’re totally over it.. roll , fold , roll, fold.; you get the picture.


Allow the dough to relax again for 10 to 15 minutes with a piece of cling film or baking paper over it to prevent drying out. Then you can roll it out into a BIG thin square… and i mean    t h i n   .


take a knife or pasta /pizza cutter and cut shapes. I did thin fettuccini-ish noodles and with the leftover cuttings I rolled a square and cut it into little oblongs then pinched the middles to make cute kitschy little bow tie “farfale”.





to cook? boil a BIG pan of salted water. throw in the pasta and bring back to a rolling boil and cook for 5 minutes or “al dente” if you want to get all fancy.

I finished my Fettuccini with melted butter and EVOO which I had sizzled together with two unnervingly large garlic cloves, chopped, fresh oregano ( HANDFULS of it ) black pepper , and of course FRESH grated Parmesan. Heaven on a plate …


oh yeah and remember to boil the pasta uncovered, unless you want a tsunami of goopy starchy water all over the stove which in turn dries and because it’s Saturday evening you can’t get your wine head around the prospect of cleaning the stove now so decide to leave it to mature overnight and then on Sunday it has petrified and takes explosives to get it off……………

‘murican turkeygeddon

Having been a resident of the USA for such a short time hadn’t properly prepared me for the true tonnage of Thanksgiving. The traffic , the week long stakeout at Airports on the Weather Channel by some hyperthermic reporter exclaiming the busyness of it all and lamenting her lack of preparedness for the ensuing holiday….. I mean who knew that Thanksgiving comes on the fourth Thursday of November every year!


Being European my only exposure to this kind of Turkey Mania is at Christmas time and the  sound bite of my Mum’s  ” I still haven’t got everything done! ” on Christmas Eve has the same flavour as the American Senior Citizen’s in Ingle’s on Wednesday morning : ” Darlin’ I’m worried sick the jelly won’t be ready in time!” she complained into her monumentally proportioned cell phone.

So much stress about cooking a big chicken and potatoes, vegetables and gravy seems part of the tradition. Without the sacrifice of nerves, lower vertebrae, relationships and fossil fuel emissions how else could we truly convey how grateful we are in this world where everything is so available? The preparation of the meal is the main event….. the actual eating is a side show.

My analysis of the American Thanksgiving has revealed a meal that is as personal to as many as it is standard to others. The Standard ranges from ok-ish to good from what i can see consisting of a lot of processed foods unpackaged and served , unpackaged, mixed together and served or simply made meat and potato dinners with the addition of not unsubstantial amounts of sweetening; the personal ranges from bizar to outstanding. The creativity and insight I have seen the past couple of weeks on various facebook pages, food blogs and TV shows has had me hooked and I just want to be reeled in so I can see it close up! . A friend’s Duck glaze was a reduction of Lambrusco, pomegranate syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and plums  and is worthy of a mention, as is the three bread stuffing with apricots, pecan and thyme I gorged myself on yesterday afternoon ….sharing my life with a freshly innovative cook broadens my horizons and opens my eyes and taste buds no end …. having two food nuts in one house is a welcome curse .

IMHO the side dishes are the stars of the extravaganza. I means let’s not kid ourselves that turkey is as interesting as…. well…….  turkey ; its what you put on it , in it and next to it that elevates this neutral bird. The Thanksgiving parade of stuffings, compotes, “casseroles” loosely termed “soufflés”  potatoes, purées, sugar drenched “salads” and caramelised and marshmallowed  yams is but the tip of an iceberg floating in the gravy of american cultural history. When we step into the realms of Mac and Cheese and Jelly pudding on our plates my head spins at the “anything goes” attitude that is in no way cavalier.

After the free-for-all of the Main Course we arrive at the most restrained part of the Feast. Maybe it’s a throw back to the puritanical origins of the Holiday that two or maybe three types of pie are the norm. Pecan Pie is a nutty-rich version of Tarte Aux Sucre that I would be happy scoffing down 365 days a year. At our house the other pie was a 5 Apple, Bourbon spiced Death Star of a dessert… rising a good 6 inches into the atmosphere and fumigating the whole house with warm , homey spicy gorgeousness.Pumpkin pie is synonymous with Thanksgiving, a smooth, sweet-spicy custard in a crisp pastry shell that screams “olden days”…. i am eating an obscenely large piece as I type and i have to say there’s so nothing else like it in my experience. I’m already thinking about ways I could adapt the recipe; maybe with a Creme Brulée caramel crust, or the addition of sweet sticky roasted garlic….. Lemon grass and Ginger… hmmm… only 364 days to work it out !

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it’s addictive

I’m biting the proverbial bullet and releasing my Cookaholic ramblings to a wider audience.

I am truly mad about being in the kitchen, even after a day at work I can unwind by making dinner.

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