January 26, 2012


My dad comes round for his dinner every Sunday evening and often we ask him what he would like to eat.  Usually he wants chicken or lamb but the other week, completely out of the blue, he suggested steak and kidney pudding.  Oh heck.

pud9jIt’s donkey’s years since I ate steak and kidney pudding and I have never ever made one.  My first thought was that it was too fiddly and long-winded and would take all day.  Then I thought well, if you’re going to make it at all, a gloomy Sunday in January is as good a time as any – what else is there to do?

So this is why, at the time of year when everyone else is dieting and detoxing, I found myself in the kitchen making one of the most fattening and stodgy dishes of all time.

We consulted a variety of cookbooks and it would seem there are two distinct methods.  Either make the suet pastry, put the uncooked meat inside and steam for 4-5 hours.  Or, cook the meat first before filling the pastry case and steam for 2 hours.

We decided to go with the second method as we thought it would be a good idea to see what the meat looked and tasted like before putting it in the pudding.  When I say “we”, this is because I was still under the weather with the lurgy so Nick did most of the work.  In the end, the preparation didn’t take all that long but you needed to be in the house for the cooking time, totalling 4 hours, to make sure the meat and the pudding don’t boil dry.

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We used good quality braising steak and four lambs’ kidneys.  Nick chopped the kidneys small as although we like the flavour of kidney, we’re not too keen on chomping on a whole one.  They just melted away to nothing but there was plenty of kidney flavour.

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We didn’t have a pudding basin the right size so Nick went shopping for one.  He found this 1 litre pot basin, exactly the right size and shape, in Tesco.  It didn’t have a price on it and when the assistant rung it up at the checkout it turned out to be 1p !!

First you make the filling, which is effectively a beef stew, and cook gently on the hob for two hours.  Whilst it’s cooking you have plenty of time to deal with the pastry.

We made traditional suet pastry, using proper Atora beef suet, and it’s easy to make as there’s no rubbing in to do.  He buttered the basin and rolled out the pastry to fit, leaving one third aside for the lid.  (He also reserved a small lump of pastry to make a lid for a separate pie – more about that in a mo.)

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The pudding basin was filled almost to the top with the meat mixture and the lid put on, sealing the edges.  Then a layer of baking paper and foil, both with a large pleat in them, were fastened to the top with string, making a loop to act as a handle.  The pleat allows for expansion of the pudding and the string allows you to lift it out of the pan without scalding yourself.

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The whole thing was placed in a large pan on an upturned saucer to act as a trivet, to keep the the basin off the bottom of the pan.  We steamed it for two hours, by which time Lulu was becoming very interested in the proceedings and had to be bribed with a chewy stick to stop fussing round the cook !!

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It looked pretty good when we took the foil off and it turned out beautifully – a man’s job of course.

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It tasted delicious.  We served it with the liquid left over in the pan when the meat filling was removed, which made an excellent gravy. 

We had reserved some of the filling to create a small, individual steak and kidney pie for my dad to take away with him and enjoy later in the week – hence the need for the extra bit of pastry.  He reported back that it was also scrumptious and has put in a repeat order !!

pud9lHere’s our version of steak and kidney pudding.


For the filling

750g lean braising or stewing steak, cut into 2-3 cm cubes

4 lambs’ kidneys, chopped very small

1 large onion, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and chopped into small cubes

1 tblsp plain flour

salt and pepper

a splash of Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs thyme

oil for frying

For the pastry

350g self-raising flour

175g suet

salt and pepper

water to mix


Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the onion.  Remove from the pan.

Toss the meat in the seasoned flour and add to the hot oil in batches.  Fry until brown all over.

Return the onions and meat to the pan, add the carrot and herbs.  Add seasoning to taste along with the Worcestershire sauce.  Cover with water and simmer gently until the meat is tender, for about two hours, stirring occasionally .

Grease a one litre pudding basin with plenty of butter.

For the pastry, mix the self-raising flour, salt, pepper and suet in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and add cold water, a little at a time, stir to combine and make a dough, bringing it together with your hands. 

Reserve one third of the pastry for the lid and roll the rest into a large circle.  It needs to be big enough to line the basin to the top.   Roll out the smaller portion into a circle large enough to form a lid.  Line the basin with the pastry. 

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs from the meat mixture and adjust the seasoning to taste.  Fill the basin with the meat, lifting it out of the pan with a slotted spoon, then add the liquid.  It should be wet but not too sloppy.  Any remaining liquid can be reheated to serve as sauce with the pudding.

Dampen the edges of the pastry with water, lay the lid on the top and press together to seal.  Trim to neaten the edges.

Cut a large circle of baking parchment (or greaseproof paper) and foil large enough to cover the basin with an overlap.  Make a pleat in the middle and lay on over the basin, the paper first then the foil on top.  Tie string around the basin just under the lip and make a double loop over the top to make a handle.  Trim if there is a lot of excess.

Place the basin in a large pan on top of an upturned saucer or small flan ring to act as a trivet.  Pour hot water into the pan to about half way up the basin.  Boil for two hours, topping up with boiling water as often as needed to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.

Lift the pudding out of the pan with the string.  Remove the string, foil and paper and carefully invert onto a large plate, preferably one with a lip in case there is any leakage of hot filling.

Stand back and admire your creation !! 

Serve with green veg and the reheated liquid, which can be thickened and seasoned to taste.

Serves 6-8

January 17, 2012


It’s a phenomenon familiar to most of us I think.

You have some wine, a cake, dessert or a meal somewhere and you really enjoy it, can’t wait to buy a bottle to take home, beg the recipe, get the ingredients and relive the experience.  Only to find yourself thinking : “why on earth did I buy that wine, it’s awful, what was I thinking……..”

choc pots Jamie’s chocolate pots with orange and polenta biscuits.

A few years ago we were invited round for coffee to the house of some new friends in our French village and with it the lady of the house served up some little orange and polenta biscuits.  They tasted lovely and I thought it was such nice way to serve coffee so I asked her for the recipe, which she typed out and gave to me.  I have long since lost it and have never found a recipe that looked anything like the same.

However, I remember that she said the recipe came from a Jamie Oliver book.  After Christmas, Sainsbury’s were selling all of Jamie’s early cookbooks for £5, buy one, get one free.  That’s £2.50 each – what a bargain – and in one of them there was the recipe for the orange and polenta biscuits !! 

So I bought a packet of polenta.

To go with the little biscuits I decided to make the little chocolate pots that were on the next page.  That was the idea, you serve a chocolate dessert with the little orange and polenta biscuits on the side.

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You heat the cream to almost boiling, then melt in the chocolate before adding the other ingredients, finally folding in the egg whites if a lighter mousse rather than a dense a cream is wanted. 

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It worked beautifully.  The recipe said it serves four but after I had folded in my egg whites I ended up with eight servings, all small in size, but so rich that they were perfectly ample.

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They looked super with the little biscuits served on the saucer but the biscuits themselves were a huge disappointment. 

In fact they were horrid.

I just can’t believe that something I remembered as being so wonderful could turn out so badly to the same recipe, but that’s life.  It’s not worth giving the recipe here but it’s a nice idea and I will have a look for another recipe.  Mind you, it might not be very soon because although chocolate and orange are, to quote Jamie, “best friends”, the effect on the waistline from desserts like this is fairly disastrous !! 

The chocolate pots were fabulous, very easy to make and well worth the effort.  The leftovers were just as good even two days later so it’s a perfect dessert to make for guests the day before, keeping them chilled in the fridge until needed.

Here’s the recipe for the little chocolate pots.

This is what I used

285ml single cream

200g good quality dark cooking chocolate

2 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons brandy

20g butter

This is what you do

First, break the chocolate into squares.

In a smallish pan, heat the cream gently until nearly boiling.  Remove from the heat.

Off the heat and after one minute, add the chocolate and stir gently until it has melted and the mixture is smooth.

Next, beat in the egg yolks and brandy and stir again until smooth.

Allow to cool a little more then stir in the butter until smooth again.  You should now have a lovely thick and glossy mixture.

You can use the mixture as it is or, to make a slightly lighter dessert, whisk the egg whites separately in a clean and grease-free bowl until the firm peak stage.  Fold gently into the chocolate mixture, a third at a time.

Pour into little cups, glasses or ramekins.  Small portions are the thing as this is very rich.

Chill for at least two hours before serving.  

This is a good dessert for entertaining as it can be made the day before and just kept in the fridge until needed . 

Serves 6-8.

January 13, 2012


I am fond of beetroot, always have been, even when it’s served up pickled in vinegar with a ham salad or in a cheese sandwich on sliced white bread.  Pickled beetroot attracts scorn and mockery these days, having gone out of fashion, rather like sherry trifle and black forest gateau did a while ago.  I’m fond of them, too.

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Anyway, I borrowed a book from the library last week.  It was the motorcycle on the cover that caught my attention and I confess I had never heard of Simon Rimmer before.  Since then I have discovered that he is on the telly every weekend, which just goes to show how much TV I watch at the weekend.

beet1Anyway, in the book I found an interesting recipe for beetroot and chocolate muffins.  In fact the book is stuffed full of interesting recipes.  So much so that having borrowed it from the library twice I decided I couldn’t live without it and managed to track down a copy for myself, thanks to my old friend Amazon. 

We_Should_Cocoa_LogoBeetroot is enjoying a lot of good press lately, now being apparently “very good for you”  so it occurred to me that the muffins would fit very well into the January we should cocoa challenge being hosted by Chele of Chocolate Teapot blog.  The idea is to make something chocolaty but also healthy after all the indulgences of the festive season.

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First you have to roast the beetroot, after which it looks rather wrinkly and unappetising but I must say that since we discovered the delights of roasted beetroot last year and found it to be delicious, we have been eating quite a lot of it.  I did find that my beetroot took a lot longer to cook than the 30 minutes stated in the recipe, so I have included that in the instructions below.

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As always, the muffins are quick and easy to make.  You mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, blitz the beetroot with the eggs and oil in a liquidiser, mix together and bake.

The pink of the blitzed beetroot combined with the darkness of the cocoa produced an astonishingly purple mixture which looked gorgeous.  Mind you, the spillages in the kitchen did look like we had suffered a visit from the local axe murderer. 

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They turned out beautifully.  There was a distinct purple tint to them but apart from a hint of slight earthiness I would defy anyone to identify the mystery ingredient as beetroot, if they didn’t already know.

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The flavour and the texture were fabulous and they came out of the paper cases in one piece – I hate it when a third of my muffin is left stuck to the case and you have to scrape it off.

beet2 So I shall definitely be making these again – they were well worth the investment of more than half of my tub of Green and Black’s cocoa powder.  And I’m sure that apart from lowering your blood pressure, if you ate enough of them you would probably get one of your five-a-day, too !!


225g raw, uncooked beetroot

75g cocoa powder

175g plain flour

2tsp baking powder

225g caster sugar

3 eggs

200ml corn oil


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.

Wash the beetroot and remove the stalks, wrap loosely in foil, place in a roasting tin and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.  (I must add here that after 30 minutes my beetroot were still rock hard so I cooked them for an hour.)

Allow them to cool then peel and chop roughly.  Turn the oven up to 200°C/180°fan/gas mk 6.  Put 8 muffin cases into a muffin tin.*

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large bowl.  Stir in the sugar.

Put the beetroot into a liquidiser/food processor with the oil and eggs and blitz until smooth.

Add the beetroot mixture to the dry ingredients, combine with minimum mixing and divide between the muffin cases.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.*  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Makes 8 muffins*.

*My mixture made 12 using slightly smaller muffin cases and they were done in 20 minutes.

January 9, 2012


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My sister-in-law gave us this cookbook about French country cooking for Christmas.  We already have many of the recipes in other books but this is a lovely book with mouthwatering recipes and gorgeous photos that make you yearn to get on the next ferry to France.

pear tart1 I was feeling decidedly under the weather this weekend with a dose of the usual lurgy so was struggling to think of what to do for pudding when my dad came round for his dinner as usual on Sunday evening.  Somehow I couldn’t build up any enthusiasm for another fruit crumble.

Nick was cooking pot roast brisket of beef for mains, using a recipe from the book, so he flipped through the pages and found a recipe for me to do ~ “look, there’s a recipe using pears here.  We’ve got some pears.”


Now I’m not sure that this precisely follows Dom’s rules for his January Random Recipe  Challenge, but it will do for me and frankly, I feel too grotty to worry about it at the moment !!

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Luckily we had most of the necessary ingredients in the house ~ well kind of.  You should make your own sweet pastry for the tart but I used one of those packs of ready-made, ready-rolled pastry that we had bought in France in December and not used so we brought it home with us.  I certainly didn’t feel up to making my own pastry.

(Having homes in two countries means that quite a lot of commodities cross the channel with us.  Before we go to France we take any unused perishables and useful things like teabags and jars of spices.  At then end of each holiday we pack any unused food into our coolbag and bring it back home.  Some things cross the channel in both directions more than once, such as an opened jar of jam or marmalade.  It certainly means less wasted food and makes for an interesting kitchen cupboard on both sides.  I wonder if other second-homers do the same.)

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I also happened to have a flan dish the right size.  Strictly speaking I should have used a loose-bottomed tart tin so you can turn the finished tart out and admire it’s crisp and gorgeous crust but I don’t have one of those.  Mine is a Pyrex flan dish and when I bought one for my little French kitchen was quite expensive from a French supermarket - it always surprises me how expensive cooking equipment is in France.  The one we have here came from a local charity shop for £2.

We did have some unsalted butter in the fridge but it was not at room temperature and I couldn’t face trying to do anything about that so I used some spreadable butter instead.  It seemed to work perfectly well.

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The tart is simplicity itself to make.  You simply blind bake the pastry shell, make an easy almond cake mixture and pour it in, arrange some peeled, sliced pears on top and bake.

The recipe in the book gives instructions on how to soften your pears if they are not quite ripe – luckily mine were.  It also occurred to me that tinned pears would probably work quite well, too.

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It was absolutely delicious.  Even though the pastry case was a little too well baked before I added the filling because I forgot it was in the oven.  Still, although it was slightly crozzled around the edges, it was still yummy and at least nobody could accuse me of having a soggy bottom.  (Well not pastry-wise, anyway!!)

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Sweet or plain shortcrust pastry made with 200g flour, or shop-bought pastry.

100g unsalted butter at room temperature

100g caster sugar

2 eggs

100g ground almonds

2 tablespoons plain flour

3-4 ripe pears


Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 190°fan/gas mk 6.

Use your home-made or ready-made pastry to line a greased 27cm loose-bottomed tart tin or flan case.  Line the case with baking parchment and fill with baking beans.  Blind bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.  Remove and allow to cool slightly before adding the filling.

Reduce the oven to 190°C/170°fan/gas mk 5.

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat in.  Fold in the almonds and flour.  Spread the mixture into your flan tin.

Peel and core the pears.  Cut each pear into 8-12 slices, depending on their size, and arrange neatly on top of the almond mixture.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden.

Serve warm, with cream, ice cream or crème fraîche sweetened with a little caster sugar.

Serves 6-8