Category: Winter

Muffin’s Famous Christmas Cake

I’m not normally one to name and shame but sometimes I feel the need to warn the world (and by the world I am in fact referring to my small but perfect Somerset existence)  about a truly disastrous eatery.  This place is The Enmore Inn on the outskirts of the divine little village that I call home.Christmas cake

From the outside the pub looks like a broken down miners welfare club and inside does no better.  I was greeted by the new landlord who was smoking by the entrance in a dirty chef’s coat illustrating last night’s service in streaks reminiscent of a poor man’s version of the dessert trolley.

What really upset me though was the smell when I walked through the door.  It made me gag and wish for rescue, I couldn’t breathe and was momentarily struck dumb by the waves of vile odour. It was I fear, my own version of the stench of Elizabethan London and put me off time travel for good. If Peter Capaldi ever comes calling I know now what answer I’ll be giving. Cigarette smoke mixed with stale beer, bad food, deep fat frying and dirt was all around me clinging to my skin, clothes and coating  the inside of my throat.  What ever food they were serving I was not eating and will never be going back.

This little trip did however get me thinking about smells and how they invade our memories and drive our desire to eat (or not!).  I once had a bad bout of flu that started while I was making slow cooked lamb which has put me off sheep for life while the smell of garlic butter transports me to The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport where we ate lobster till we popped, drank, swam and swayed all summer in this perfect All American paradise.

As Christmas approaches we’re bombarded with the scents of pine, cinnamon, clove, ginger and orange.  Richly warm and intensely evocative, to me these are the memories of my childhood.  This made me decide to share with you all my Grandmother’s Christmas Cake recipe that we’ve been making here as a family for many many years and is as famous to us as all of the other traditions we hold dear as a family.  We affectionately called her Muffin hence the title of this post.

Ingredients

  • 14oz of self raising flour
  • 8 oz of rich Somerset butter
  • 10oz of soft brown sugar
  • 1 pound of mixed fruit and cherries
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 a pint of milk.  This can be substituted for Somerset Royal Cider Brandy, freshly squeezed orange juice or a mixture of all three.
  • 4/5 teaspoons of mixed spice

Method

  • Soak the fruit in the liquid over night or for 12 hours in a cool dark place and keep well covered.
  • Melt the butter and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan.
  • Add the fruit with it’s liquid  and the spice.
  • Simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 mins.
  • Allow to cool
  • Beat the eggs
  • Add the eggs and the flour and stir in well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is combined.
  • Poor into a deep cake tin (size will depend on how you want your cake to look – either short and fat or tall and graceful!).
  • Bake on a low heat (150 degrees) or in the bottom of the AGA for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Half way through the cooking place a piece of baking parchment over the top to prevent burning.

When the cake is cool place in a cake tin and feed with your cider brandy once a week until Christmas Eve.  You can follow your own traditions either by covering in marzipan and icing and a jaunty little Christmas scene or by studding with more fruit and nuts.  The Blonde is a huge fan of marzipan and I’m an ever bigger fan of jaunty little scenes (and brandy) so you know which way we’ll be jumping!

Thank you to http://www.haahandbook.co.uk for the scrumptious image.

To buy Somerset Royal Cider Brandy go to http://www.ciderbrandy.co.uk/

Comforting Cassoulet

It’s horribly cold here at Castle Farm, deep in the depths of Somerset. The wind is battering the house and however many pairs of socks I put on and however close I snuggle to the AGA I am still freezing. One might argue that this is just the time to turn up the thermostat but I am blessed with oil central heating.  Cassoulet

Back when I lived in civilisation and had gas gushing into the house I would happily switch the boiler onto constant and revel in the warmth not thinking for one moment about the bill coming my way. Now I have an oil tank that I have to refill I can see the levels dropping day after day as we literally burn through the cash.  This motivates you to hardiness, to eating your lunch in your coat and sleeping in two jumpers.

As energy prices rise I am rather thankful for my oil tank.  Not only are you more cautious about using energy but each time you fill the tank you can haggle and barter yourself to a good deal by playing the local suppliers off against each other. If only it were this easy to drive a deal with the Big 6 we would all have a lot more money in our pockets.  The Blonde and I have quite heated debates about the rights and wrongs of privatisation of the energy supply market but rather than bore you all with that here, can I offer another suggestion of how to keep warm as toast as we march into winter?

Cassoulet is rich and warming comfort food at it’s very best.  Originating in Southern France this delicious sausage delight is named after the pan it was traditionally cooked in. After a long hard day beating off the cold in the garden this is the perfect treat for all the family.  It’s best eaten with chunks of home-made bread, perfect to dip into the steaming sauce.

Ingredients

  • 250g of mixed beans
  • 800g of tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 400g of sausages
  • a good squeeze of tomato purée
  • 1/4 pint of stock
  • 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • splash of vegetable oil

Method

  1. Soak the beans in water overnight.  Drain and then boil vigorously for 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Chop the onions and garlic
  3. Melt the butter with a splash of oil in a medium sized casserole dish on the hob.
  4. Fry off the onions and brown the sausages in the casserole.
  5. Add the garlic and fry off but don’t let it burn.
  6. Add all of the remaining ingredients.
  7. Bring the Cassoulet to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  8. Transfer to a medium oven and cook for at least 75 minutes.

PS – I nicked this photo from Delia as I’d eaten ours before I remembered to take a picture!