Making Mincemeat (Outta You)

Mincemeat is to the winter holidays what chocolate and beer are to the Stanley Cup Playoffs (I’m serious.  Cadbury Mini Eggs and a microbrew during the finals is to die for).  Originally a combination of dried fruits, spirits, fat, and meat, over the centuries the meat part has all but disappeared from the recipe, and now it’s more of a dessert type of thing.  It does still employ three of the age-old methods of preserving, however: fat, sugar, and alcohol. 

I have adapted Allora Andiamo’s recipe from Jamie Oliver‘s website and it is incredible.  I quadrupled some things, and other things I just chucked in the amount I had, so it’s not particularly faithful to Ms. Andiamo’s original recipe but I give her full credit.

In a very large bowl I chucked the following, by weight:

275g raisins

55g dried blueberries

475g dried cranberries

575g candied orange peel

250g blanched almond slivers

400g finely chopped marzipan

474g (1lb) shredded butter (put the butter in the freezer, then grate it, or break it into chunks and run it through the food processor until you have fine crumbs)

1kg apples, finely chopped (I left the skins on and used a variety of different kinds, whatever I had lying around)

juice and rind of 5 large oranges

juice and rind of 2 large lemons

1kg soft brown sugar

3 teaspoons almond extract

8 tablespoons rum or brandy (I used both, of course)

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons ground nutmeg

6 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

Give that a good stir, cover it, and leave it somewhere to marinate for about 24 hours.

The next day, distribute the mincemeat into casserole dishes (or, if you are clever like me and used a metal bowl, don’t bother), cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 225°F for 3 1/2 hours.

I stirred mine halfway through, just to be thorough.  And also because I don’t trust anything on its own in an oven for three and a half hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.  The liquid will thicken as it cools so make sure to stir it occasionally in order for the syrup to coat all the fruit. 

Before it completely cools, pour into sterilized jars and seal — can according to your canner’s instructions, or check out our tips to canning here.

Store in a cool dark place for about 3 weeks before using. 

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Eggplant and Beef Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce

What’s better than a nice fall lasagna?

And this one has eggplant in it.  Who doesn’t like eggplant?

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food.  It uses no-boil lasagna noodles, which makes everything so much easier.

First you need to make up a basic béchamel sauce.  Don’t freak out — it’s not that hard.

Béchamel Sauce

Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan.

Dice a small onion and chuck it in.

Add a clove of garlic, or a spoonful of garlic-in-a-jar.

Cook that stuff until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes. 

Add in 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and then cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale golden and has a nutty aroma, about another 4 minutes. 

Add in 2 1/4 cups whole milk (or suitable substitute) and whisk constantly the whole time.  Add in another 2 1/4 cups milk and whisk until smooth.  Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 10 minutes.

Use it immediately or press plastic wrap to the surface (to prevent it forming a skin) and let it cool.  You can keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days like that.

Lasagna

Preheat your oven to 400°F.  Put your oven racks in the middle and upper third of the oven.

Slice up 1 1/2 pounds eggplant into 1/4″ rounds and divide between two baking sheets.

Toss with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and bake until tender, stirring and rotating halfway through, about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool, but leave the oven on.

In a large skillet, heat some oil over medium-high.  Add in 1 pound lean ground beef and stir until cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Add some allspice and dried oregano and season with salt and pepper.  You can also add some fresh chopped mint if you like.  Remove from heat and transfer the meat to a bowl.

Pulse 1 1/4 cups (3 1/4 oz) romano or parmesan cheese in your food processor, or use the pre-grated variety.  I prefer using whole cheese because it tends to be less dry.

In a baking dish (size dependent on your noodles, mine were slightly smaller than a 9×13″ pan), spread one cup sauce on the bottom of the dish.  Top with no-boil lasagna noodles to cover (I used three).  Make sure to leave some space between the noodles, as they will expand as they cook.

Layer with half the meat, then another cup of sauce and 1/4 cup of cheese.

Add more noodles, then half the eggplant, a cup of sauce, and 1/4 cup of cheese.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients, reserving the last 1/4 cup of cheese.

Cover lasagna loosely with foil and bake on the top rack until the sauce is bubbling, about 35 minutes.  If you’re worried about spillage from a bubbling lasagna, place a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven to catch drips.

Remove from oven and heat your broiler.  Take off the foil, sprinkle on the last bit of cheese and broil the lasagna until the cheese is browned and bubbling, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Allow your lasagna to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes great leftovers.