Brandied mincemeat filo waterlilies

If you fancy a change from the traditional mince pie this year, why not try these? I personally prefer filo to shortcrust pasty – try them and let me know what you think!

Serves about eight. 

You will need:

For the brandied mincemeat

This recipe makes enough for 6 x 1lb jars and as an alternative you could try ginger wine or whisky instead of the brandy!

  • 450g apples, peeled and cored
  • 225g suet
  • 350g sultanas
  • 250g raisins
  • 225g currants
  • 225g candied peel (chopped)
  • 3 oranges (grated rind and juice)
  • 1 lemon (grated rind and juice)
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 4tsp ground mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients together in an ovenproof bowl, cover with foil and stand in the oven heated to 120ºC/225ºF/Gas ¼ for about three hours. Take the bowl out and allow to cool, then mix in the alcohol and spoon into clean, dry jars. Cover and seal as usual.

For the waterlillies 

  • Approx 20 sheets of filo pastry
  • 225g (8oz) melted butter 

Using good kitchen scissors, cut the filo pastry into 5 – 5.75cm (2-21/2 inch) squares. Cut a stack at once, don’t do them one at a time or you really will be there until Christmas! Keep the pastry covered with a clean damp cloth as much as possible to avoid it drying out. Butter a nine-hole bun tin and place a square of pastry over the hole. Brush the top of the pastry with melted butter and cover with another square of pastry, placing the second square at an angle. Continue to layer about 5 sheets of pastry, buttering in between and rotating each square a little each time to give a petalled edge effect – see diagram. Fill each pastry case with between 10 – 15g (1dsp to 1tbs) of mincemeat and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160ºC (325ºF), gas mark 3 for 45 minutes.




Christmas planning…

I know we all want the ‘perfect’ Christmas – the elusive nirvana of a huge gathering of happy relatives where nothing ever goes wrong… Everyone adores their presents, they praise the lightness of my gently warmed mince pies, the mulled wine is irresistible and yes, nobody gets too tipsy…

I could go on – my cards are all beautifully made and not one person forgotten, the presents are wrapped as if by a professional and my hair and make up are flawless as can be seen in all the rose-tinted photographs of the event…

OK back to reality! I will overheat the mince pies and only the dog will appreciate them, my naturally inclined to frizz hair will do just that as jets of steam shoot out of the oven as I check the turkey – and I just know I will forget a present or a card!

So why not join me in some clever forward planning this year – and let’s catch all those little ‘fails’ before they happen.

1.     I will have a stock of Christmas cards sitting in the letter rack ready to be addressed and sent when the inevitable “Oh no, I forgot them!” card arrives through the door!

2.     Buy something small but lovely for a male and a female gift, so that if someone arrives unannounced you have something that might work – if not – have them yourself as a treat after Christmas!

3.     Use a portable kitchen timer – I have one that you hang round your neck – then you can’t get chatting with someone in the sitting room while the mince pies harden to stone in the oven!

4.     Frizzy hair – well any of you that struggle with frizz will have your own best cures – but mine is strong hairspray – apply way more hairspray than you are used to using and then the oven can try and do its worst and there’s a good chance you will survive!

5.     Try and remember that nobody has a picture perfect family or Christmas and if yours brings happiness and is pretty OK – then you have worked your own little bit of Christmas magic!

If you have any ‘top tips’ to help us all get through the festive period – please share!


Scenting pinecones

Now is definitely one of my favourite times of year for scavenging and trawling the local paths and woods. Pine cones are of IMMENSE use to a crafter and can be used so many different ways, but my particular favourite is to use them as a Christmas pot pourri.

The fibrous material that makes up a pine cone is also, fortuitously, really good at retaining scents. So I capitalise on this ability and have a lovely big basket or bowl of pine cones near the open fire, or around in the kitchen throughout the dark wintery season.

The first and most important task is to dry out the pine cones – take great care as small bugs seem to lurk and these need to be removed. Start by shaking each cone well, outside on a sheet of newspaper. Tap it and give it a good shake – some people wash them in a very dilute bleach solution, again to eradicate any bugs – I usually just shake them a bit and then the drying process sorts out bugs as you will see. However the bleaching technique can be used to vary the colours of the cones in your collection if you’d like some lighter ones.

Once you are happy they are well shaken, bring them indoors and arrange on a wire cake rack, over a baking sheet and put in a very low oven (sort of thing that would be perfect for an Aga if you have one!) and leave for 4-5 hours. This should dry them nicely – if they were sopping wet then you might need a little longer – just check them and see.

Then decide what fragrance you want – either a bought pot pourri oil (like a refresher oil) or your own mixture of essential oils. Drop some oil onto each cone, stick them in a sealable plastic bag and leave for 24 hours or more. Then bring out of the bag and arrange in your chosen container. The scent can then be topped up by dropping oil onto the cones and shuffling them around in their container.


My book recommendations…

There are literally millions of books out there to choose from and if, like me, you are constantly on the look for new titles and recommendations, I thought it might be interesting for you all to have a look at some of my favourites from this year. Maybe you could suggest some of yours too?

I have a very wide taste in the types of books I enjoy reading – I am not good at reading horror (baby that I am!) but I have loved some fantasy and magic related themes… my suggestions there would be; ‘The Hollows’ series by Amanda Hocking and ‘The Dresden Files’ series by Jim Butcher. Both are amazing series that kept me enthralled and rank among my all-time favourites.

However if you are thinking “Oh no – hate magic but love romance” well, I read a lot of those too! How about trying ‘Long Time Coming’ by Edie Claire or historical romance like Glenna McReynolds ‘Chalice and the Blade’.

Jojo Moyes is a very powerful writer and it’s worth trying “Me Before You” – a really strong book, and my daughter has just finished ‘The Girl You left behind’ also by Jojo Moyes, so I am hoping there will be a copy winging its way over!

Another author that I have to recommend is Debbie Maccomber. I adore gentle series about people I have ‘met’ in other books and got to know and, although Debbie’s books are based in America which might not be everyone’s choice, I find them wonderfully comfortable and have read every one in the series.

A huge favourite of both Richard’s and mine is the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom, we listen to the audio version on our long drives to do TV shows and it makes the time fly past! Finally I have to give a mention to one of my main romantic author favourites and that would be Katie Fforde – her best (I think!) is “Going Dutch”.

So – what are your recommendations? Do you read on a Kindle, or prefer the good old traditional book? Or do you, like us, enjoy audio books too?


My Lethal Christmas Pudding!

As you all know, I am a bit of a Christmas-aholic! I am already thinking of presents, some decorative ideas and, of course, the Christmas pudding! I always make mine in October so it is suitably steeped, so I thought you might like my recipe now so it gives you plenty of time…!

Joanna’s Lethal Christmas Pudding

The Christmas pudding carried into the dining room with flames licking around its base is a very traditional and exciting climax to the Christmas meal. Using Calvados instead of normal brandy has worked well for years, including one year at a friend’s house when she was rather too generous with the Calvados and it refused to be put out!

You will need:

  • 100g (4oz) currants
  • 175g (6oz) sultanas
  • 175g (6oz) raisins
  • Juice and rind of one orange
  • Juice and rind of one lime
  • 50g (2oz) dark brown sugar
  • 50g (2oz) chopped walnuts
  • 175g (6oz) granary breadcrumbs
  • 5g (1oz) ground allspice
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 100g (4oz) melted butter
  • 30ml (2tbsp) brandy
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) port
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) Calvados
  • 150ml (1/4 pint) brandy for adding later
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) Calvados for serving

Combine the grated orange and lime rinds, breadcrumbs, walnuts, allspice and brown sugar with the dried fruits. In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange and lime juice, melted butter, eggs and alcohol. Do not add the large amounts of brandy and Calvados at this stage. Stir the two mixtures together until well combined.

Butter a 1.2 litre (2 pint) pudding basin and pour the mixture over it. Leave to stand for half an hour, then cover with a double layer of well-buttered greaseproof paper and secure it around the basin with string. Take a large piece of muslin and wrap a double thickness around the pudding basin and again, secure with string or tie in a knot at the top.

Half-fill a very large saucepan with water. Place the pudding basin inside, keeping its top clear of water, and steam for between 7-8 hours. The saucepan must never be allowed to boil dry. Once the time is up, remove the pudding and leave it wrapped until it is completely cool, then remove the muslin and greaseproof paper. Using a skewer or knitting needle, make some holes in the top of the pudding and pour over about 75ml (3 fl oz) of the remaining brandy. Wrap the pudding securely in buttered greaseproof paper and aluminium foil and store in a cool place.

Approximately one month later, open the pudding and, using the same skewer technique, pour the remaining 75ml (3 fl oz) of brandy over the pudding and wrap it up again securely. The pudding will keep for up to one year in a cool place. I usually make mine mid-October, so the second dose of brandy has plenty of time to do its work before Christmas.

To serve the pudding, either steam it for about 2-3 hours or microwave it for 5 minutes on high, and then allow it to stand for a further 5 minutes. Remember to remove the aluminium foil first if you are microwaving.

Once the pudding has been reheated, place it on a decorative service dish, warm the 300ml (1/2 pint) of Calvados and pour it over the pudding so that a small puddle accumulates all round the bottom. Place a sprig of holly in the top and set light to the Calvados. Take care – this is not called ‘Lethal Christmas Pudding for the amount of alcohol involved as much as for the spectacular flames of the Calvados! Serve with cream, custard, brand or rum butter… or all of them!