Hello webby chums!
My daughter is fashioning the "number of nights until Christmas" out of blu-tack and sticking it next to her bed, the lads are 'just mentioning' how close it is at least twice a day and the tree is dominating the living room so much that we can't see each other on the couches past it. Everyone I meet seems to ask whether I'm ready for Christmas. I guess we're in the final stretch now.
I'm surrounded by presents to wrap, lists of jobs, chaos and pine needles. I don't mind a bit - Christmas may mean a lot of work but it also means Christmas food. Yum.
In my opinion the greatest of all Christmas food* is the mince pie. Some love the cake or pudding, others favour the chocolate oranges and bit tins of sweets. Mark loves the big roast dinner with all the trimmings but I'd be happy with pasta and a salad as long as I had plenty of mince pies. I think they are worth a little bit of time. Not much in the face of the hours spent shopping, wrapping or writing cards, but more than slinging something into a trolley.
In my first years living here I used to go to a tiny bakery in Hyde Park, now long gone, that used light pastry and veggie suet. I'd buy them by the half-gross and we'd still run out by Boxing Day. I don't like the stodgy pastry of supermarket mince pies, so I graduated to Jus Rol and a jar of mincemeat to assemble my own. Then I learnt to make lovely pastry, thanks to a tutor at college.
That pastry left the jar of mincemeat looking outclassed, so I decided to raise my game. Three years ago I made my own mincemeat and BANG! that was it - my prefect mince pie.
I understand making your own mincemeat may sound a little bit mad, but I promise it isn't. We're not heading into Kirsty Allsop lunacy, I promise. It takes me 30 minutes at most to make enough to fill 8 jam jars full. Trust me, it's worth it. It's far nicer, you can tweak the flavours to your own palate and other than peeling and chopping 3 or 4 apples it's almost entirely effortless.
Apples - 2 large cooking apples or 3-4 regular eating apples
400g mixed dried fruit - I suggest cranberries, cherries, apricots and prunes chopped as needed.
250g vegetarian suet
125g mixed peel
600g brown sugar
1tsp each ground cloves, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg
90ml brandy, cointreau or dark rum
Peel and chop the apples and either microwave or simmer in a small pan until softened into a puree. In a very large bowl, chuck all the dried fruit, suet, mixed peel, sugar and spices. Add the zest and juice of the oranges and lemons. Tip in the apple puree and the alcohol of your choice and mix until well combined.
Leave overnight for the flavours to mature. A week or two is even better, a year is also possible - just spoon it onto sterilised jars and seal.
A note on dried fruit -
Don't use currants. Well, do if you feel you must, but I can't recommend it. For my money they add nothing but grittiness to the mixture. Cherries and cranberries add a welcome sharper note, prunes make everything taste richer and more moist, and apricots work really well too.
*Stilton is for life, not just for Christmas. I thought I best clarify that.