Pecan puffs for Christmas

December 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I first came across this recipe more than 20 years ago in Sophie Grigson’s recipe column for the Evening Standard. I was delighted to rediscover it recently when I was thumbing through an old copy of her book “Sophie’s Table”.

She recounts how an American friend would send the family a gift of these puffs for Christmas each year and how they would barely last beyond Christmas Eve. They are a crumbly and buttery mouthful, essentially a shortbread but with a delicious pecan and vanilla flavour.

They have a Christmassy feel with their snowball-like appearance and are quick and easy to make. The only slightly fiddly part of the recipe is the rolling in icing sugar and returning to the oven to set the sugar.

They’ll keep for a week or more and so would make a lovely last-minute edible gift.

As an alternative to icing sugar, I’ve recently discovered “snow sugar” on the Bakery Bits website. It’s powdered dextrose plus cornflour and doesn’t dissolve away so bakes retain that freshly dusted look for longer. Ordinary icing sugar is fine though.

Pecan puffs

Adapted from a recipe in Sophie Grigson’s book “Sophie’s Table”.

Makes about 35.

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter
3g salt
30g golden caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
150g shelled pecan halves
150g plain flour

icing sugar or snow sugar for dusting

Freeze the pecans beforehand to prevent them turning oily too quickly when ground. Put them into a food processor with the golden caster sugar and grind to a coarse powder without overworking.

Cream the butter, beat in the vanilla extract and gradually work in the ground nut and sugar mix and the flour to make a paste.

Chill the mixture briefly in the fridge to allow it to firm up just a little.

Roll rounded teaspoons of the mixture into balls and set onto baking sheets lined with silicone paper. Space the balls well apart to allow them to bake evenly.

Bake at 150 degrees C fan for 30 minutes until golden.

Allow to cool very briefly then carefully roll each puff in icing sugar, place back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for a further 2 minutes to set the icing sugar.

Cool on cake racks and store in an airtight tin, dusting each layer with icing sugar and separating with sheets of baking paper.

Twelve days of Swiss Christmas

December 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

On The Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

12 Chocolate Snowmen
11 Christmas Guetzli
10 Grilled Kalbsbratwurst
9 Glasses of Glühwein
8 Rhåtischebahn Engines
7 Rustic Chalets
6 Christmas Trees
5 Singers singing
4 Advent Candles
3 Christmas Stockings
2 Davos Sledges

and an enormous Cinnamon Star!

That’s more or less a summary of our Swiss Christmas,though we didn’t spend any where near 12 days there, and I haven’t even mentioned the skiing.

We have our mince pies and Christmas cake but the Swiss go nuts for their Guetzli – Christmas biscuits which are on offer in every bakery, household and public place throughout Christmas. The good Hausfrau will of course make her own to offer to guests and family. Leafing through my Betty Bossi Christmas baking book I see cosy colour pictures of Orangenschnittli (filled almond orange shortbread), fantastically embossed Tirggel, Orangenschümli (orange mini meringues), Pfeffernüsse (little spiced gingernuts) to name but a few.

Best of all in my opinion are the Zimsternen – cinnamon star biscuits. At their best they’re nutty and spicy, a little bit crunchy, a little bit chewy with a crisp meringue icing. These biscuits aren’t exclusively Swiss but can be found throughout the German-speaking countries.

The biscuit base, a mixture of ground nuts, sugar and egg whites flavoured strongly with cinnamon and lemon zest is half way beween marzipan and a macaroon. I’ve come up with my own version of the classic recipe compiled from 3 sources: (i)the recipe on the back of the special split “profi” star cutter; (ii) Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen”; (iii) Thorsten’s recipe on website Food.com. Dry matter per egg white varies from 225g to 275g and the percentage of ground nuts varies from 59% to 77% in the different recipes. This version uses 300g nutsand 200g sugar making 250g dry matter per egg white with 60% of the dry matter made up of nuts.

To make the biscuits using the method shown in my pictures you’ll need to get hold of a special split star cutter which releases the moist iced biscuits without sticking. I found mine in specialist kitchen shop Sibler in Zürich. If you have a standard star cutter then I’d recommend cutting the shapes out, placing them on the baking sheet then brushing with the icing.

Recipe for Cinnamon Stars

Makes about 34 biscuits in two rollings plus 15 small additional shapes with the soft trimmings.

Ingredients

For the biscuit dough

75g whole unblanched almonds
75g halved walnuts
100g golden caster sugar
60g egg white (about 2 medium egg whites)
pinch of salt
approximately 150g ground almonds (more may be needed to make a pliable, workable dough)
further 50g golden caster sugar
50g icing sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the icing

30g egg white (1 medium egg white)
small pinch of salt
175g icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Lightly toast the whole nuts. Allow to cool then blitz in a liquidiser with the 100g golden caster sugar until very finely chopped.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they reach the soft peak stage. Mix in the ground nut and sugar mixture, the ground almonds, caster sugar, icing sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Add additional ground almonds if necessary to make a workable dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in the fridge for about an hour.

When the resting time is nearly up, make the icing. Whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt until stiff. Whisk in the sifted icing sugar a tablespoon at a time together with the teaspoon of lemon juice. You may not need to add all the icing sugar; stop when you reach a thick spreading consistency.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (fan) and line two or three baking trays with parchment.

Dust a pastry board and rolling pin with plenty of sifted icing sugar then roll out the rested dough to about ½ cm thick. You can roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment if you prefer.

If you have a special split star cutter which can be squeezed to release the iced biscuit you can use this method to complete the stars: using a pastry brush, paint the surface of the dough thickly with the meringue icing and cut out the iced stars and carefully place them on a baking sheet a few centimetres apart. This gives a neat and professional finish but the drawback is that the icing is mixed into the dough when the trimmings are combined for rerolling making the dough wetter each time. To counteract this you may need to add more ground almonds each time you reroll. For my third rolling, I simply rolled the soft mixture into a log and cut thick disks. I didn’t ice this third batch but instead topped each with a whole blanched almond for a more macaroon-like biscuit.

If you have an ordinary star cutter, don’t try and pre-ice the biscuits as they will stick and not release from the cutter: simply cut out the star shapes, place them on the baking sheet then brush the biscuits with the meringue icing.

Bake the biscuits for about 15 minutes until baked through but still somewhat moist with crisp and uncoloured white icing. The biscuits will swell a little as they bake to end up 1cm thick. Leave on the baking sheet for a few minutes after removing from the oven before transferring to a rack to cool thoroughly.

You might like to bake any un-iced biscuits at a slightly higher temperature to give a more toasty flavour as there’s no icing to brown.

An alternative Christmas dinner

December 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve been teaching some local young people simple cooking skills at our local Parish Centre/Church Hall over the past few months. To celebrate the “end of term” we congregated together for a special pre Christmas meal.

My initial idea for this meal was to showcase the 3 original Christmas gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having researched their culinary possibilities I decided that whilst it would be straightforward to decorate a dessert with real edible gold leaf, incorporating frankincense and myrrh into savoury dishes might be more challenging and maybe even downright toxic. I sourced high quality frankincense and myrrh resins the origins of which were Oman and the Yemen and decided to incorporate them into the meal by burning them over charcoal.The fragrant smoke is very atmospheric and transports you instantly to the Middle East.

Hence the inspiration for the meal – food inspired by the the Holy Land as reinterpreted by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi in their rather gorgeous new book “Jerusalem” featuring recipes from their respective Jewish and Arabic heritages. The book, hardback and handsomely cloth bound, was an early Christmas present to myself and I couldn’t wait to put it through its paces.

This was the menu for yesterday’s alternative Christmas dinner for 18, largely taken from the pages of “Jerusalem”:

Roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon
Open kibbeh
Root vegetable slaw
Mejadra
Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar
Roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs
Basic hummus and hummus with lemon sauce and pinenuts
Pitta
Labneh

Golden clementine cake
Yoghurt, honey and pomegranates

Pomegranate and rose cordial

And here we are enjoying the rather magnificent feast:

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I did quite a bit of prep beforehand at home helped by Laura who made the rather beautiful roasted sweet potato and fresh figs:

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and stunning root vegetable slaw, vibrant in colour and taste, combining crisp raw roots sliced on the mandolin and cut into matchsticks combined with a sharp lemony dressing and Ottolenghi’s trademark abundance of fresh herbs:

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At the Parish Centre kitchen, Laura and Emma prepared the chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon which baked to a toasty gold and was aromatic and delicious with lots of slow-cooked shallot, sweet garlic cloves and of course the nuggets of Jerusalem artichoke. This would be a fantastic dish for an informal dinner party or a very welcome addition to a buffet for family and friends over the holiday period.

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Perhaps the best fun was preparing our own hummus, just as good as the stuff you can buy at Sainsbury’s! I’ve never had much success with homemade hummus before but I’d always started with canned chickpeas. WRONG! You need to start with dried kind, and some bicarb to help remove the skins. In fact the method is not so different from our own homegrown mushy peas. Oh, and a whole jar of tahini paste per batch, and the magic ingredient – ice cold water which turns the mix, after a whole 5 minutes of processor blasting, magically into an elegantly pale and silky smooth emulsion. Jess and Oli did a fantastic job of mixing up the two different batches of hummus, one plain and one garnished.

My simplified version of Mejadra, a spicy, oniony rice and lentil mix, was a more dramatic and interesting alternative to plain boiled rice:

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The finishing touch to our feast was the chocolate ganache iced and gold leaf decorated Golden Clementine cake, sweet and citrussy. This cake, minus the decadent chocolate icing, clearly derives from the many recipes for Sephardic Jewish cakes featuring citrus and ground almonds that the Jews brought with them from Spain hundreds of years ago. Many cookbook authors give recipes for similar cakes – Claudia Roden, Nigella Lawson and of course Delia to name but three. This version is simple to make, deliciously moist with the addition of syrup and very Christmassy with its sharp citrus notes shining through. It reminds you of clementines stuffed in your Christmas stocking and pays a nod to that old British confectionery favourite, the Terry’s chocolate orange. Clemmie and James were the pastry chefs who ably prepared the chocolate icing and painstakingly applied the gold leaf with tweezers.

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I give below the recipes we prepared together in the kitchen last night – maybe some of the young people will cook the dishes at home for their families over the holidays?

For the rest, you’ll need to buy the book – it would make a great late Christmas present for any keen cook.

Recipe for roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon

Adapted from a recipe in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Serves 8 as a main course or up to 16 if served as part of a buffet.

Ingredients

900g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into 6 lengthways wedges, about 1.5cm thick
3 tablespoons lemon juice
16 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
24 shallots, peeled and halved lengthways
24 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 medium lemons, cut in half lengthways and then into very thin slices
2 teaspoons saffron threads
100ml olive oil
300ml cold water
3 tablespoons pink peppercorns, slightly crushed
8g dried thyme or herbes de Provence mix
40g chopped tarragon leaves
4 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 further tablespoons lemon juice
further 40g chopped tarragon

Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a large saucepan, cover with plenty of water and add the 3 tablespoons lemon juice. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.s

Place the Jerusalem artichokes and all the remaining ingredients except the final 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 40g chopped tarragon into a large mixing bowl and use your hand to mix everything together well. Cover, refrigerate and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 240 degrees C/220 degrees C fan/Gas mark 9. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up in the centre of a roasting tin and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Cover the tin with foil and cook for a further 15 minutes by which point the chicken should be completely cooked.

Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.

Recipe for Mejadra

Adapted from a recipe in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

250g green or brown lentils (we used Puy lentils which were fine)
6-8 medium onions (1.4kg before prep)
6 tablespoons light olive oil
3 tsp cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
400g white basmati rice
4 tablespoons light olive oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar
700ml water
salt and black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander and pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional)

Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil and cook until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite, then drain.

Peel and slice the onions thinly. Fry in 2 large frying pans each with about 3 tablespoons light olive oil over a medium heat for about 20 minutes until the onions are soft and brown but not burnt. The original recipe requires the onions to be dipped in flour and deep-fried but I have simplified this step and the resulting slow-cooked soft brown onions still taste good mixed with the rice, spices and lentils.

Take a large heavy based lidded saucepan and place over a medium high heat. Once hot, add the cumin and coriander seeds and dry-fry to toast the seeds for a minute or two, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer on a very low heat for 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat, lift off the lid and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.

Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion. If like, garnish with chopped fresh parsley and or coriander leaves and a few pomegranate seeds.

Recipe for basic and garnished hummus

Recipes adapted from those in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Serves 12 or more if served as part of a buffer

Ingredients

For the basic hummus

500g dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
540g light tahini paste
8 tablespoons lemon juice
8 garlic cloves, crushed
200ml ice cold water
salt

To garnish half of the batch

4 tablespoons whole cooked chickpeas reserved from the second batch
2 tablespoons pine nuts lightly toasted in the oven or dry frying pan
2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley

For the lemon sauce

10g flatleaf parsley finely chopped
1 green chilli finely chopped
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt

Start a day before by washing the chickpeas well and placing them in a large bowl. Cover them with cold water, at least twice their volume, and leave to soak overnight.

The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place a large saucepan on a high heat and add the drained chickpeas and bicarbonate of soda. Coll for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 3 litres fresh water and bring to the boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas will take between 20 and 40 minutes to cook, maybe even longer. Once done, they should be very tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your finger and thumb, almost, but not quite, mushy.

Drain the chickpeas. You should have roughly 1.2kg now. Place half of the the chickpeas in a food processor bowl. Process until you get a stiff paste then, with the machine still running, add the half of the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in half of the iced water and allow it to mix until you get a very smooth creamy paste, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Repeat with the second batch of ingredients (you used only half), but remember to reserve 4 tablespoons cooked chickpeas to garnish.

Shortly before you serve the hummus, combine all the lemon sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Top the second bowl of hummus with the cooked chickpeas, drizzle generously with the lemon sauce, and garnish with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts.

Recipe for golden clementine cake

Adapted from a recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Serves 8 generously or up to 16 if cut into delicate slices.

Ingredients

For the cake

200g unsalted butter
300g golden caster sugar
grated zest of 4 clementines and and 1 lemon
280g ground almonds
5 medium eggs
100g plain four sifted with a pinch of salt

For the syrup

80g golden caster sugar
120ml lemon and clementine juice

For the chocolate icing (optional)

90g unsalted butter, diced
150g good quality dark chocolate broken into pieces (or Valrhona or similar buttons)
¾ tablespoons honey
½ tablespoons cognac

To decorate

Long strips of zest taken from an orange using a zester
or flakes of real gold leaf (available from specialist cake decorating suppliers)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 degrees C fan/Gas mark 4. Lightly grease a 24cm round cake tin, ideally loose bottomed and line the base and sides with a double layer of parchment.

The cake is best made in a stand mixer such as a Kenwood. Cream together the butter and caster sugar thoroughly. Add approximately half the ground almonds. Beat in the eggs gradually, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula from time to time.

Add the remaining ground almonds, flour and salt and work them into the mix until completely smooth.

Spread the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and level with a palette knife (a small crank-handled one does the job well).

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, checking to make sure it’s not browning too much. Test in the usual way by seeing if the sides have shrunk just a little and by inserting a skewer which should come out clean.

Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the syrup by combining the sugar and citrus juices in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then remove the syrup from the heat.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush it with the boiling syrup until it has all soaked in. Leave the cake in its tin to cool completely before removing it from its tin.

Either garnish with the orange strips and serve as is or coat with chocolate icing.

To make the chocolate icing, put the butter, chocolate and honey in a heatproof bowl and set OVER (not in) a pan of simmering water making sure the bowl does not touch the water.

Stir until everything is melted, remove from the heat straightaway and fold in the cognac.

Pour the icing over the cool cake allowing it to dribble naturally over the sides without covering the cake completely.

Let the icing set then decorate either with strips of orange zest of flakes of gold leaf in the centre of the cake.

Christmas recipes: turkey and some of the trimmings

December 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

In 2009 I wrote down my pudding, cake and mincemeat recipes. This year I’ve decided to write about turkey, stuffings and cranberry sauce. Sometimes we have a goose at Christmas, sometimes turkey. A number of people have told me recently that goose is more traditional than turkey, but it is an enormous turkey which features in the closing scenes of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and you can’t get more traditional than that in my book.

I’ve done terrible things to turkeys over the years tending to over- rather than undercook them. Worst of all was when I took someone’s advice to put the turkey into the Aga simmering oven and leave it to cook overnight for 12 + hours. The turkey was cooked alright but swimming in a bath of caramel brown juice that should have been retained within the bird – the most wasteful turkey stock ever…

Since I discovered the slightly odd method suggested in “Leith’s Cookery Bible” of draping over the stuffed bird before it goes into the oven a folded piece of muslin soaked in an unfeasible quantity of melted butter, I’ve never looked back. Doing this and investing in a decent meat thermometer, I really don’t think you can go wrong.

This method produces a moist, perfectly cooked turkey with a deep burnished gold skin:

Family Christmases when I was growing up always involved a turkey with two different stuffings – sage and onion and chestnut and sausagemeat. When we have turkey now, that’s how it still has to be. Preparing the stuffings on Christmas eve was a family affair (although when I say family I mean the women in the family…) Tiny Auntie Em would always boil and chop the onions for the sage and onion stuffing but my mother would take charge of the chestnut and sausagemeat one. My mother was a fantastic but instinctive cook so never wrote her recipes down. I learned by watching and tasting. I have made the sage and onion stuffing recipe my own over time preferring now to fry rather than boil the onions and adding a handful of
oatmeal really lifts the texture of the stuffing and stops it being too stodgy.

Just 4 days to go now…

I found my cranberry sauce recipe in a pre Christmas newspaper article written by Simon Hopkinson. The brown sugar, port and orange zest add fantastic flavour and fill the kitchen with wonderful scents as the sauce cooks. I treasure this recipe and am now very happy to have set it down in writing as it currently exists as a single brown stained piece of newsprint. I got very, very twitchy one year when I couldn’t find it.

Recipe for perfect roast turkey

Adapted from a recipe in “Leith’s Cookery Bible”. Serves 12

Ingredients

1 turkey unstuffed weight 10-13lb/5-6kg
1 recipe sage and onion stuffing
1 recipe chestnut and sausagemeat stuffing
1 large square fine muslin about 4 times the size of the turkey
6 oz butter

Stuff the cavity of the turkey with some of the sage and onion stuffing. Stuff the neck end of the turkey with the chestnut and sausagemeat stuffing. Draw the skin flap down to cover the stuffing and secure with a skewer. Weigh the stuffed turkey and calculate the cooking time. Put any leftover stuffing into a shallow greased baking dish and bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes or so until cooked through and crusty on top.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/gas mark 4. Melt the butter and in it soak the piece of muslin until all the butter has been absorbed.

Completely cover the bird with the doubled butter muslin and roast in the preheated oven for the calculated time – a 12lb/5.35kg turkey should take 3 to 3 and 3/4 hours.

I roast my turkey in the roasting oven of a two oven Aga on the lowest set of runners. The oven has quite a high temperature, 200 degrees C at the bottom, higher at the top, so the bird cooks a little more quickly. I turn it round after an hour or so to ensure it cooks evenly.

Other than this, there’s no need to turn, baste change the temperature, just leave it to do its thing in the oven.

I use a meat thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked through, removing it from the oven when the internal temperature is 10 degrees C below the temperature I’m looking for (ie I take it out at 72 degrees C) degrees C). As the bird rests, the internal temperature rises to the required 82 degrees C.

A long resting time (at least 1 hour, in fact up to 2 hours for a good sized turkey) will ensure the bird is easy to carve and gives you time to prepare the gravy, finish the vegetables, and generally have a more relaxing time.

Recipe for sage and onion stuffing

Ingredients

2 oz butter
3 medium onions, finely chopped
15-20 fresh medium sized sage leaves, finely shredded
12 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
4 oz medium oatmeal
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Fry the onion until translucent but not browned. Stir in the breadcrumbs, sage and seasoning to taste.

Recipe for chestnut and sausagemeat stuffing

Ingredients

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon light olive oil
1 and 1/2 lb of your favourite sausagemeat
1 lb cooked peeled chestnuts (I like Merchant Gourmet vacuum packed chestnuts)
1 beaten egg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the onions in the oil in a small frying pan until tranlucent. Cool. Roughly mash the chestnuts with a fork. Combine the cooled cooked onions, sausagemeat, mashed chestnuts, a teaspoon of salt and a couple of twists of black pepper in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg and go in with your hands to mix and combine all the ingredients. Don’t try and taste this to check seasoning as it contains raw sausagemeat.

Recipe for cranberry sauce

Ingredients

8oz (200g) brown sugar (demerara or light soft brown or even golden granulated)
1/2 pint (1/4 litre) port – ruby or LBV is fine, don’t use your best stuff for cooking
12 oz (340g) cranberries, rinsed and drained
grated zest of 2 oranges

Put the sugar and port into a medium non-reactive (stainless steel or enamelled cast iron) saucepan. Mix well and bring to the boil over a gentle heat, stirring from time to time until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cranberries and orange zest and simmer until the skins of the cranberries have burst. Be careful not to overcook at this stage as otherwise you’ll get a rubber set.

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