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Festive butternut and stilton pies

Forget nut roast. This pie is packed full of flavour and highly recommended as a festive treat when you’re fed up eating meat, or for a vegetarian friend; they’ll love you for this.

Also conveniently works with all the usual Christmas day trimmings and can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

You need to be fussy about the pie dishes as the filling needs to come to the top (so the pastry sits proud on the top and doesn’t sink). We used two small enamel dishes that hold 450ml water and measure 16cm x 11cm.

Wine Suggestion: If others are eating turkey then the same wine should be work pretty well for both. Given the earthy, savoury porcini and chestnut mushrooms a good choice, though, is a fruitier Pinot Noir. This may be a youthful village Burgundy or a fresh style from a similar region; look to Baden and Alto Adige for a good alternative. If you look elsewhere make sure the alcohol is not too high, as this can unbalance things.

Festive Butternut Squash & Stilton Pies – makes 2 pies (each one will serve 2 generously)

  • 25g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 butternut squash, about 800g
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp chopped thyme or rosemary
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 6 tbsp double cream or crème fraîche
  • 50g stilton, broken into chunks
  • 50g walnut pieces
  • 140g puff pastry – we used one sheet of all butter puff pastry
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten

Soak the porcini in 150ml boiling water for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6/Fan 180C.

Meanwhile, peel the squash, discard the seeds and cut into small chunks.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the oil, and fry the squash over a medium heat for 10 minutes or so – you want it to be caramelising nicely. Stir in the sliced chestnut mushrooms, chilli flakes, garlic & thyme or rosemary, and fry for 5 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the brandy, then remove from the heat.

Drain the dried mushroom and reserve the liquor, then roughly chop. Add to the squash mixture with the soaking liquid (but leave the grit in the bowl) and double cream, then return to the heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat again, season, and stir in the stilton and walnuts. Divide the mixture between two individual pie dishes (see recommended size above). Leave to cool before covering with the pastry.

Cut the puff pastry in half and roll out on a lightly floured surface until slightly bigger than the dishes, the pastry should overhang the edges a bit. Use the scraps to make holly leaves and berries or some other festive motif. Stick to the pastry lids with a little bit of water. You can keep the pies in the fridge now for up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, get your oven heated and brush the tops with the beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle a large pinch of sea salt and some black pepper over each. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

Serve with seasonal sides – we went for sprouts.

(Original recipe by Rosa Baden-Powell for BBC Good Food Magazine, December 2001. )

 

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Cod with a soy and chive marinade

Judith Hann is a friend and neighbour to Jono’s great uncle Graeme, who we’ve met a number of times without realising she was a great cook and proponent of herbs. To our delight we were sent her new book “Herbs” and promptly tried this fish dish. Superb, and we look forward to trying more of Judith’s recipes and expanding our own little herb garden in the city.

Wine Suggestion: a fresh, vibrant dry Riesling from Pikes in the Clare Valley matched the freshness and zing of this dish.

Cod with a soy and chive marinade – serves 4

  • 4 cod fillets (or use other firm white fish)
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp snipped chives
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • 2.5 cm cube of root ginger, finely sliced or grated

Rub the cod all over with half the sesame oil, then put into a non-metallic dish. Toss with half the soy sauce, half the chives and the bay leaves, then cover and leave in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

Preheat your grill to its highest setting. Heat a tablespoon of sesame oil in a frying pan and fry half the scallions with the garlic and ginger until softened – about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the soy sauce and season with pepper, then taste before seasoning with salt.

Meanwhile, grill the fish for 10 to 15 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork.

Spoon the marinade over the fish and garnish with the remaining scallions & chives.

Serve with rice and pak choy or other Asian greens.

(Original recipe from Herbs by Judith Hann, Watkins Media Ltd., 2017.)

Creamy Parsnip Mash

Creamy parsnip mash

We’ve no time for Christmas until the first of December and the snow starts falling on our blog. As soon at that happens we’re in a frenzy of Christmas cake baking (meant to do it November but didn’t happen) and experimenting with possible dishes for the big day. We know not everyone is a fan of parsnips but if you’re a parsnip-loving family we highly recommend this easy variation on ordinary mash. The parsnips give the mash a lovely earthy flavour and it tasted great with our wintry beef & Guinness stew. The Northern Irish contingent in this household insists on the obligatory garnish of a generous blob of salted Irish butter.

Creamy parsnip mash – serve 4 (or more if you have lots of other side dishes too)

  • 900g potatoes, quartered (or halved if small)
  • 3 parsnips, chopped
  • 4 tbsp double cream

Boil the potatoes and parsnips until tender, then drain and mash with a large knob of butter and the double cream. Season well with salt and pepper.

 

Carrot & Cumin Soup

Carrot & cumin soup

It seems to be getting more and more difficult to buy a carrot, with supermarkets in particular insisting that you buy a huge bag. Why can’t we be like France and just have troughs of veg for us to pick what we need from? This is a suitable end for almost a whole bag of carrots.

Carrot & Cumin Soup – serves 6

  • 35g butter
  • 600g carrots, chopped
  • 110g onion, chopped
  • 150g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
  • 2 tsp freshly roasted and crushed cumin seeds
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1.2 litres light chicken or vegetable stock
  • a little creamy milk (optional)
  • crème fraîche or yoghurt (to garnish)
  • coriander leaves, chopped

Melt the butter until foaming, then add the chopped vegetables. Season with salt, pepper and sugar and add the crushed cumin. Cover with a butter paper and a tight fitting lid. Leave to sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the stock and boil until the vegetables or soft – about 5 to 8 minutes, then purée the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in warm bowls with a swirl of crème fraîche or yoghurt if you like and some freshly chopped coriander.

(Original recipe from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course, Kyle Cathie Ltd., 2001.)

Quince Jam

Quince jam

Not as solid and refined as Membrillo/Quince paste, but with all the taste and flavour. Plus it couldn’t be easier to make – just boil up the quinces and sieve into sterilised jars. Serve with cheese and anything else you fancy.

Quince Jam – makes about 4 jars

  • 1kg quince, chopped into chunks (no need to discard pips/stalks etc)
  • 1kg granulated sugar

Put the chopped quince and sugar into a saucepan. Add water to cover. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1½ – 1¾ hours, mashing the fruit after the first 45 minutes. Cook until the liquid has evaporated but keep stirring as it gets close to stop it burning on the bottom of the pan. Push through a sieve into a large bowl, then pour into sterilised jars.

 

Burrata with burnt orange, pistachio and pomegranate

A dish of vibrant colours and flavours that may not be for everyone as the texture of the nuts and pomegranate is a little unusual (a bit like rubble); we ate everything on the plate with gusto and wished we had more.

Wine Suggestion: we picked the Biancardi Insolito which is made from the rare Minutolo grape. This grape had for years been mistaken for Fiano but has been proven to be a distinct variety, so if you can’t find this exact wine/grape try a good Fiano instead. Full of pear, green apple, citrus and floral characters it is as fresh as the sea breezes that cool it’s vineyards and made a good match.

Burrata & Brunt Oranges with Pistachios & Pomegranate – serves 4 as a starter

  • 1 orange or blood orange, cut into segments
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g ball of burrata
  • 60g pomegranate seeds
  • 25g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 pinches of nigella seeds
  • ½ tsp sumac
  • a handful of mint leaves, torn
  • maldon sea salt flakes and black pepper

Use a blow torch to burn the orange segments or heat a frying pan on the highest heat until hot, brush a little bit of oil on to the segments and cook for 1 minute on each side, or until starting to blacken.

Place the burrata in the centre of the serving plate. Arrange the burnt orange around the cheese and scatter over the pomegranate seeds, pistachios, nigella seeds and sumac. Drizzle generously with some nice olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter over the mint.

(Original recipe from Feasts by Sabrina Ghayour, Mitchell Beazley, 2017.)

Mussel & fennel risottoWe really liked this tasty risotto made with delicious stock from the mussels. Jules bought half the quantity of mussels (in error!) but it was no worse for it. The sort of thing we like to eat on a Friday night with a glass of something bubbly.

Wine Suggestion: As we have a few bottles of Sparkling Saumur lying around after our summer holiday to the Loire this year, we automatically gravitated to this and found it a good match. This time we opened the Bouvet-Ladubay Trésor blanc, a blend of mostly Chenin Blanc with some Chardonnay. Fresh and vibrant but with the quality of fruit to stand up to the food. Cost aside, we don’t know why more sparkling wines aren’t matched with food.

Mussel & fennel risotto – serves 4

  • 1.75kg mussels, cleaned thoroughly (discard any that don’t close when you hit them off the side of the sink)
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • a few parsley stalks
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ fennel bulb, trimmed & diced
  • 300g risotto rice
  • 50ml dry vermouth
  • 4 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • a squeeze of lemon juice

Put the mussels into a large saucepan over a medium heat with the white wine, parsley stalks and peppercorns. Cover and cook for 4 to 6 minutes or until opened. Shake the pan a couple of times as they cook.

Strain over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor and remove the mussels from their shells. Throw away any that haven’t opened.

Strain the liquor through a sieve lined with muslin to catch any grit, then heat until simmering gently.

Heat 5 tbsp olive oil in a heavy pan and sauté the onion, garlic and fennel over a medium heat until the onion is soft but not coloured. Stir in the risotto rice. Pour on the vermouth, then add the mussel liquor a ladleful at a time, stirring continuously. The rice should be cooked after about 20 minutes. Add some water if you run out of mussel liquor.

Stir in the mussels, parsley, lemon juice and seasoning to taste.

(Original recipe from Food from Plenty by Diana Henry, Mitchell Beazley, 2010.)