Category Archives: baking

Express summer update

It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I keep starting posts and then something in our ever shifting summer dynamic shifts again and I can’t finish them.

So herewith, some bullet points, with photos of times we went outside:

  • I have a new phone, so that small children will no longer remark on how tiny my phone is. It was getting embarassing. My new phone is still an old phone, (Samsung 6s) but it has a good camera and it’s a lot smarter than my old one. There will be Instagram. (But not Snapchat because who do you think I am.)

    Girl on bike, boy on scooter, on path between grass under trees

    A trip to the park! On wheels!

  • What you know by the time you turn 44 is that if you want a nice birthday you are responsible, at least somewhat, for making it nice yourself. So I bribed the children and took them to the beach, which was slightly easier than it had been the week before, so I think they actually like it. I told the husband what I really wanted (the new phone), so I got it. I booked the babysitter for tonight so we can go out to dinner.

    Boy and girl on swings in playground

    A protracted discussion on the swings

  • The summer break began with nothing but screens and fighting, but we are all shaking down into a routine of sorts, where the children are constantly watching something and demanding food, and I spend a while working, a while trying to persuade one or both of them to leave the house with me, and a while wondering why I’m doing all this laundry.

    Boy with giant homemade bow and arrow.

    For about two days Dash was obsessed with making bows and arrows.

  • So far, Mabel is learning Spanish on Duolingo, I’m brushing up on my Italian, we’ve started rewatching the Great British Bakeoff, and Dash has discovered that he does like Minecraft when it’s in survival mode and you can blow things up with lots of TNT. We’ve also moved all the furniture around in Mabel’s bedroom and baked a few things.

    Boy and girl wading at the beach

    Cooperation at the beach

  • The pace is slower, and we’re learning not to freak out about it. We’ve gone to two different beaches. We’ve gone to the pool, but not a lot. We’ve baked fancy biscuits. Some of us have done some reading. Next week Mabel starts camp and everything changes again. We’ll work it out.

    Sandwich biscuits on a blue plate

    Viennese Whirls (not quite up to Mary Berry’s standards but they tasted excellent)

  • The cats continue to cat. They’re very good at it. I feel like I’ve really accomplished something since my last birthday, because now we have cats.

    One cat.

    Exhibit A. Or B.

The black-bean brownies that keep my kids alive

Brownie on plateI have the noisiest food processor in the world. It only occurred to me a while ago that maybe it’s not supposed to be that loud. But it processes perfectly well, so it would be petty of me to get a new one, even if I court deafness every time I use it.

And it is useful. I remember bugging my parents to get a food processor when they were the new big thing (at least, they seemed to be) so we  could “make coleslaw”. The idea of my voluntarily eating vegetables must have persuaded them in the end, but I don’t think I made the coleslaw more than once or twice. Mostly the new toy sat gathering dust in the back cupboard behind the stand mixer and in front of the good plates inherited from my paternal grandmother.

Nowadays I use my (newer but noisier) processor for making pastry (the recipe here is my favourite for everything), for falafel or carrot salad, but most often for these black-bean brownies, which are probably one of the things that keep my vegetable-averse children alive. They have one of these or a pumpkin muffin in their lunchbox every day, and they fight over getting the “test brownie” when they’re out of the oven. If your kids are used to regular brownies you might want to call these something else in case they’re disappointed, but as far as mine are concerned these are better. And I didn’t have to lie about the beans, either. They proclaim it proudly. Bonus: They’re gluten free.

I found the recipe online years ago, but it comes originally from a book called The Daily Bean by Suzanne Caciola White. I’ve changed the method, though, so I think I’m allowed reproduce my version here.

Ingredients in food processor

Aerial view

Black Bean Brownies

1 cup cooked black beans (the contents of one 15oz / 425g can, drained and rinsed)
2 cups (200g) sugar
1/2 cup (200g) butter, softened a little
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
4 eggs

Optional: 3/4 cup (95g) chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
  2. Put the drained and rinsed beans and the sugar in your food processor and process until they form a smooth puree.
  3. Add the butter, cocoa, coffee powder, and eggs and blitz again until smooth.
  4. Stir in the walnuts, if using.
  5. Pour mixture into a lined 9×13 pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

If you don’t have a food processor, follow the method in the book, which says to first beat the butter and sugar with the cocoa and coffee. Then mix in the eggs and then the beans, followed by the nuts last of all.

Baked brownies in tin

Out of the oven. I lined the tin with a silicone sheet instead of paper.

If you want to know more about the recipes I love, you should follow me on Pinterest, because that’s where I keep most of them. Or just go directly to Smitten Kitchen because that’s where anything I don’t bother to pin comes from. 🙂

Baking for Nine

I think I need to eat a whole head of broccoli. Raw. Dipped in cucumber and enveloped in green beans and slathered in lettuce. As soon as I polish off the last of these chewy cornflake cluster thingies, that’s what I’ll be doing. It’s lucky I’ve already eaten the last of the caramel-and-cheese popcorn (don’t ask) and finished the birthday cake. Washed down with a glass of vino, por supuesto.

Our weekend, it was somewhat cake-oriented. It began on Friday morning when I bought 30 supermarket iced cupcakes and delivered them to Dash’s class and teachers. (You can’t bring home-made stuff to school because of ingredients lists and allergies.) The gym teacher was absent, so even after I’d kept one for Mabel, there was one left for me. I scraped off the two-inch-high dollop of buttercream – because I’m not a pig, you know – and had it with my cup of tea as a reward for a job well done. Handing out cupcakes to third graders is hard work.

IMG_0768

On Friday afternoon I baked a single, fat, layer of Victoria sponge to put cream and strawberries on for the block party (the Americans thought it was a strawberry shortcake but I know it’s a fruit flan); but because I felt bad about making a cake Dash wouldn’t like when it was after all his birthday, I also rustled up a batch of cookies. That’s my new go-to recipe. It does everything it says on the tin. Eat them warm and gooey.

IMG_0788On Saturday Mabel and I made some vanilla cupcakes, because people who come to our parties sometimes don’t like chocolate (I know. As if.) and then I made another batch of cookies because that seemed like a good idea, and I wanted something to go with my cup of tea. I also threw together the aforementioned chewy cornflake bun things, because they’re a birthday party tradition now. (This is the recipe but I use a lot less butter and if you’re in America you have to use Milky Ways because they’re the equivalent of the UK/Irish Mars Bar. A UK/Irish Milky Way is entirely different, more akin to an American Three Musketeers bar. Did that clear everything up? Now I want a Bounty.)

On Sunday morning it was time for Dash to bake his cake, because he insisted on doing that himself even though there’s nothing I want less on the morning of a party than a nine-year-old (or anyone, for that matter) inexpertly cluttering up my kitchen and making a mess in an unsanctioned manner. But, you know, have to be nice to the birthday boy, so I made an effort. I typed up the recipe more simply and printed it out in 14-pt font, because trying to navigate 8pt font on a screen is not good for someone with dyslexia. We made half the quantity given in that link, and it filled two 9-inch round cake pans.

Dash baking

Genius at work

Once it was in the oven I reasserted my dominion over the kitchen and quickly whipped up some vanilla buttercream for the cupcakes, and turned the scrapings into some sort of hacked chocolate sour-cream icing to put in between the cake layers. (Loosely based on the filling for the Nigella Lawson cake recipe here.)

The cake turned out beautifully, as the other adults who tasted it can attest. (Never believe a child.)

Dash laughing and candles on cake lit

Those are the cornflake buns in the foreground

Nine candles is practically a conflagration. I’d never seen so much fire on a cake before. Now, where’s my broccoli?

Assorted culinary disasters

Apparently it’s been a while since I roasted a chicken. When I took it out and thought I’d take a stab (har) at carving it, I couldn’t find the breast. You’d think it’d be right there, but it didn’t seem to be.

“I think the chicken’s upside down,” I said to the amassed hungry hordes. (That is, to B. The kids are not interested in chicken.)

I’ll have you know that cooking the bird upside down is actually a legitimate technique mentioned by Nigella Lawson as a surefire way to get a tender turkey, so let’s pretend I did it on purpose.

Sprouts and green beans

I didn’t take a picture of the bird, so here’s the veg. It was tasty.

None of my Christmas cooking really worked out, since I also made a Christmas log / bouche de noel / swiss roll that took forever to bake and then totally cracked when I rolled it up even though I followed all the directions that were meant to ensure that couldn’t possibly happen. It tasted delicious, though, and since it’s a fatless, flourless sponge, it basically has no calories so it’s fine to go back for thirds.

B said, “So what’s in it then?”
“Eggs. Chocolate and eggs.”
“So it’s a chocolate mousse.”
He’s right. It’s a chocolate mousse, baked and rolled up with cream inside.

Cracked chocolate log

I filled in the spaces with more cream

This morning I christened my new waffle iron. About two hours later I found the butter I’d melted to go in the batter still in the microwave, which explains quite well why they stuck to the thing. I look forward to doing it again tomorrow and including the butter, for improved letting-go.

Wobbly waffle

Maiden voyage

In other news, I’m on Instagram now. Some very nice person I’m married to gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and now I’m on Instagram and I can have fun with fancy filters and making my photos look all seventiesy. I have to practice taking selfies before I post any, though. And put on a lot of eyeliner, probably.

 

Odds and ends

Another Amazon parcel just showed up on the front doorstep. It’s addressed to me, but I have no idea whether it’s something I ordered or something someone else is sending to me. It might be gift-wrapped inside the box, but the only way to find that out would be to open it.

So I think all these boxes are just going to go under the tree as they are, and on Thursday morning we will open them all and distribute presents as appropriate. (For now, they’re out of sight in the basement, because Mabel is not quite able to manage the temptation of presents under the tree for any length of time. I know, because I put two things there that are not even for her, and she peeked at one of them.)

That’s a great plan for saving on wrapping paper, but in fact I think I’ll have to get B to investigate them all instead, because some of them will be Santa presents and need to go in or below stockings. Even though Santa has been thoroughly debunked so nobody would care, but I need some sort of delineation here.

I have absolutely positively bought everything I need, though I do still have to find some marzipan for the almond icing on the Christmas cake, because I draw the line at making from scratch something that nobody in the house even likes. But you have to have it, because otherwise the royal icing doesn’t work. Last year I found it at IKEA, but it doesn’t seem to be there this year, so my search continues.

(Sigh. I have no attention span. I wrote that and then went to the IKEA site to see if marzipan would be listed. Then I was distracted by a list of product recalls, read that, and clicked away again without looking for marzipan. Then I spent several seconds more than you would think necessary staring out the window while I tried to remember the phrase “attention span”.)

I’m now on hold on the phone to IKEA. I might be here a while.

B and I went to the movies last night (Mockingjay Part 1) and I think Mabel took a while to go to sleep for the babysitter. As a result, she woke up grumpy and has refused to get dressed all day, thus avoiding any attempts to get her to leave the house. I think she’s not being intransigent so much as recognising her limits, so I sent B and Dash to the zoo for the lights display and Mabel and I are hanging out at home. She’s been happily gluing beads to pictures and adding to her massive pile of Harry Potter illustrations, so I think it was the right call.

Bead art

Mixed media, right?

IKEA will have no more marzipan for at least three weeks. Time for plan B, then.

A Week of Dinners

I’ve done a week of dinners a few times before, usually one at a time to get me out of a blog rut. This is just a quick one, the whole week in one fell swoop, with not enough photos, as part of a linky thing from Bumbles of Rice. Go check out what everyone else is eating too…

Monday

This was a supremely bad week to choose because I did no meal planning and precious little food shopping. On Monday I remembered too late that Dash had a baseball game at 6pm (our usual eating time) so I had to throw this together even faster than usual. Luckily, carbonara with ham and peas is about as quick as quick dinners come; it’s usually a Friday night standby for me.

Carbonara

I like my carbonara with linguini. Makes a nice tangle.

Tuesday

An actual dinner that I prepared for. Chicken and bean burritos slathered with avocado. I put some rice and red peppers and onions and salsa in here too, as well as cheese, of course. (There might not have been beans, actually. I don’t remember.)

Burrito

I wanted to pick it up, but this was really a knife-and-fork burrito.

Wednesday

I totally forgot to take a photo, but Wednesday was some salmon fishcakes I had made ages ago and put in the freezer, with steamed brocolli. There was potato in the fishcakes, so that’s all there was on the plates, which made them look a bit sad.

Thursday

I’m a sucker for a nice label, and for some reason I thought this Safeway Select Tikka Masala sauce might be nice. The ingredients were okay, though the 30% sodium was not; but I knew the kids wouldn’t come within a mile of it anyway. More chicken, chickpeas, and courgettes (zucchini) went in as well to up the veg content.

Tikka masala in a jar

There’s the jar.

Served with basmati and naan bread. Okay, but not a patch on homemade Indian, which I do make now and then.

Tikka masala on the plate

Look! Inauthentic vegetables!

Friday

This is the sort of dinner I think is very boring but that makes my husband very happy, what with the meat and the spud. So I cook it every now and then, because I like him. Pork chop (with steak seasoning), mashed potatoes, and ginger roasted carrots (really, nothing easier and the only way I like carrots since I found out about them) and roasted broccoli.

Pork chop

Manly dinner

Saturday

I forgot to take a photo on Saturday, but it was just the rest of Thursday’s heated up, with cous cous instead of rice.

Sunday

Sunday was Mother’s Day in America, which is where I am, so I ordered a pizza online in good time, and picked up a nice bottle of white wine when I went down to pick it up, because if you want something done right, you should just do it yourself. We have a new local independently owned pizzeria and it’s pretty good. We had a mediterranean with ham, and Mabel got her own cheese pizza because she eschews toppings. And I made these cupcakes for dessert.

 

You will note that I don’t mention what the kids ate. If you like, you can imagine that they ate all these things except maybe the Tikka Masala. Some people’s kids might have.

How to totally half-ass your way to a successful children’s party

You may remember last year, when I made a Yoda cake. Or the year before, when I made a light-saber cake. Or both years when I made an actual effort and had plans and lovingly hand crafted pool-noodle lightsabers for Dash’s birthday party.

This year, I totally half-assed it. I tried to plan, I really did, but we had no cohesive theme (he wanted Star Wars again; I put my foot down) and somehow my vague searchings on the Internet weren’t bearing any fruit. And yet, things came together. Here’s how you can duplicate this amazing feat of lassitude:

————–

Forget to buy fruit. Have some clementines at home. Decide they’re nice and colourful and some kids might even eat them. Be vindicated as you see at least two boys (lovely, wonderful, fruit-eating boys) happily helping themselves.

Fail to consider the need for party favours or goodie bags until, while vaguely wandering in Target, you spy some foam cutlasses. Buy just enough, without having any sort of pirate theme in mind. (Mabel exclaimed dramatically, “A foam cutlass of my very own! I’ve never had one before!” I had thought that with all the swords floating around our house at least one must have been hers, but apparently not.)

Make cupcakes three days earlier and freeze them, so you only have to pull them out and ice them on the morning of the party. (This is a bonafide actual helpful tip.) (“Bonafide” always makes me think of George Clooney in Oh Brother Where Art Thou.)

Fail to buy “pigs” to go in the “blankets”. Make the blankets (crescent rolls from a tin, half sized) anyway. The kids prefer them this way.

Party table with food

Before the deluge. Cake not included. Note the clementines. And salsa! Salsa is totally vegetables.

Invite too many children. Be miffed when half of them aren’t coming. Be even less motivated to plan anything in particular. Invite a spare sibling to make up numbers. End up with just the right amount, enjoying themselves perfectly well.

Be really lucky with the weather so the kids can run around outside.

Make a round cake, not any sort of fancy shaped one with icing that requires food colouring. Put chocolate icing on it. Hear no complaints whatsoever because they are perfectly happy with it and anyway it’s delicious. (Nigella’s sour cream chocolate cake, if you want to do it yourself.)

Tell your husband his job is to set up an obstacle course of some sort. The kids will spend most of the time watching/”helping” him faff around the garden. The course, when it is finally completed, will be a roaring success and manage to bring in the totally off-the-cuff pirate theme when he orders them all to do the whole thing with their foam cutlasses in their teeth.

Like the Pied Piper, leading them through their paces.

Like the Pied Piper, leading them through their paces.

Make sure a few convivial parents stay to drink wine with you while you all watch your husband caper in the garden from the safety of the pleasantly removed kitchen.

Enjoy a self-congratulatory cup of tea/more wine after everyone goes home, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to do this again for a year, and that once you’ve cleaned up your house will be marginally cleaner than it was this morning.

Dash blowing out his candles

Round cake, chocolate icing. Done and done.

Banana butterscotch muffins with a healthier twist

 

One of my favourite recipes is banana butterscotch muffins from Nigella Express. I don’t make it often because Dash doesn’t like banana, but if I’m bringing a treat along somewhere, it’s a handy one.

I wanted to bake some of these for the nursery school open house on Saturday, but I thought it would be nice to make the recipe a little healthier, considering all those delightful teeny toddley people who would no doubt be cruising by the food table and swiping everything they could grab before a parent stopped admiring the classroom decorations and noticed.

So I used brown sugar instead of white and reduced the quantity, because the butterscotch chips give plenty of sweetness. I added oatmeal too. I didn’t dare tweak the recipe further since I was baking against the clock and for an audience (I mean, the results would be eaten by an audience; I wasn’t actually baking in front of a live studio audience), but I have suggestions for next time…

Mabel dishing out the muffins

Helper

This is the recipe as I made it this time:

3 ripe bananas (if your bananas are not very ripe, 30 seconds in the microwave will soften them up nicely)
1/2 cup (100g) light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil
1.5 cups (150g) AP (white) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking (bread) soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup (50g) oatmeal (old-fashioned, not quick)
1/2 cup (75g) butterscotch chips

1. Mash the bananas with the brown sugar and set aside.

2. Stir together the flour, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Beat the eggs with the oil in a measuring jug.

4. Add the egg and oil mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to moisten.

5. Add the mashed bananas (and sugar) and mix well. (Not too well. Lumps are fine, so long as the flour is all mixed in.) It’s quite a wet mixture.

6. Mix in the butterscotch chips.

7. Spoon into well-greased muffin tins. I made mini muffins, the better to be grabbed by little hands, and the mixture made 24 minis plus 3 regular-sized ones for taste testing. If you use paper cases, the oatmeal often sticks, so even though greasing is a pain it’s better for the final product.

8. Bake at 400 F (200 C) for 15 minutes for mini muffins or 20 for regular-sized ones.

9. Cool a little and remove carefully from the tin so as not to leave bits behind. If you can take them out of the tin before they’re totally cooled, the bottoms will be as deliciously crunchy as the tops.

Muffins on cooling rack

They’re a little bumpy-looking, but that’s the artisanal touch, y’know.

Other healthy things you could try:

  • Substitute plain yogurt for one (or both) of the eggs.
  • Use part wholemeal flour instead of all AP flour.
  • Substitute applesauce for part or all of the vegetable oil.

They all disappeared in record time, so I think I can safely say this particular version passed the adult-and-toddler taste test.

Apricot breakfast muffins

I like to make breakfast muffins. I whip up a batch containing something relatively healthy, thus guaranteeing that nobody else will want to eat them, and then I stick them all in a ziploc bag in the freezer. In the morning I can pull one out and 20 seconds in the microwave later I’ve got something nice to eat with my coffee.

In the summer I made a batch of somewhat aggressively healthy zucchini-and-almond ones; more recently I was eating my old faithful (delicious) oatmeal streusel muffins; but today I pulled a bag of dried apricots off the shelf, looked up a basic recipe, and messed with it to good effect.

Apricot muffin

This is how my version looked:

  • 1 cup (160g) chopped dried apricots
  • 1 cup (120ml) boiling water
  • 1 cup (100g) wholewheat flour
  • 3/4 cup (75g) AP (white) flour
  • 1/4 cup (25g) wheatgerm
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (75g) brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (120ml) (in its liquid state)
  • a splash of orange juice (or some orange zest)
  • 1 cup (240ml) natural yogurt
  • 1/4 cup (50g) chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup (25g) chopped walnuts

Turn the oven to 400 F (200 C). Put the apricots, roughly chopped, into a small bowl and cover with the boiling water while you get on with everything else.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, wheatgerm, baking soda and salt. (You don’t have to have wheatgerm, and you can probably use all wholewheat flour if you want to.) I like to use a balloon whisk for this, but a spoon will work too.

Measure the sugar into a smaller bowl and mix with the egg, breaking up any lumps with a fork. Add the oil (you can use vegetable oil if you don’t have coconut) and the yogurt, as well as the orange juice or zest if you have it, and mix well.

Now mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones, but don’t overmix. Lumps are fine. Drain the apricots and add them, along with the walnuts and chocolate chips. Obviously, at this point the mix-ins are totally up to you, but this seemed like a good combination.

Scoop 12-15 muffins into waiting muffin cases (or greased muffin tins) and bake for 15 minutes.

Muffins in freezer bag

Oops, I just had one for my elevenses as well.

 

Adding this post to Simply Homemade’s breakfast linky. Go check out some other great healthy breakfast ideas. 

Christmas by the mouthful

Some people think Christmas is all about the giving. Personally, I think it’s all about the free licence with food and drink. Not to overdo things, of course, but just to push the boat out a little and indulge in some foodstuffs you wouldn’t usually have in the house.

On Christmas Eve I made a cheesecake for the following day’s dessert, and cinnamon buns for the next morning’s breakfast.

I’ve never made a baked cheesecake before (the only kind, in the eyes of Americans, but an Irish cheesecake is an unbaked, chilled affair that’s like a firm mousse on top of a crumb base, often lemon flavoured. It can be delicious in its place, but I wanted the richer, slightly crumbly texture of the item we first discovered in Milano of Dawson Street, where it was billed as New York Cheesecake. (In the UK, the Milano chain has the much less enticing name of Pizza Express. It’s much nicer than that.)

I used this recipe from my friend Jennifer, because I trust her for matters great and small, from watching my kids to helping people birth their babies (she’s a doula) to creating and recommending recipes for most excellent baked goods. It was simplicity itself to whip up (especially since I own both a food processor for the base and a stand mixer for the filling) and turned out every bit as toothsome as I had hoped. I prefer the taste of a digestive-biscuit base to the graham-cracker one, but that’s probably just what I’m more accustomed to. (And also because Digestives are nicer.)

The only part that made me swear unbecomingly was lining my springform pan with parchment paper, which I only felt the need to do because the non-stick coating is peeling away in places and I don’t want to ingest any teflon with my cheesecake.

Cheesecake

Jennifer doesn’t mention that when you remove it from the oven it will have puffed up amazingly, but it sinks back down again as it cools, because most people probably know that already. This is totally normal, as are any cracks that might develop in the centre (but I think that if I’d run my knife around the edges immediately, as she suggests, it wouldn’t have cracked so much). That went into the fridge overnight, and dessert for the next day was all taken care of.

For the cinnamon buns, I used the dough in this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, with the variation for apple cinnamon buns that you’ll find in the notes at the end, though I didn’t include the apple. I used plain yogurt instead of buttermilk, and they came out every bit as delicious as Deb promises. I made the dough, let it rise for two hours (I was afraid at this stage that it wasn’t working, because it didn’t rise enormously; but all was well), and then made up the buns and left them in the fridge overnight for their second rise, as instructed. In the morning when we came down blearily at 7am (thank you, Mabel, for not waking at 5:30), all I had to do was turn on the oven and put them into it. We didn’t even bother with icing on top. They made an excellent start to the day, though so did presents.

Cinnamon buns

Lunch was catch-as-catch-can, because I don’t see why people who are getting fancy breakfast and fancy dinner, earlier than usual, even, should have the temerity to get hungry in the middle of the day as well. If we’d had guests I might have made some sort of effort to have soup on hand to warm up at this point. As it was, leftovers from two nights previous were just fine.

And then for dinner.

I’d been thinking about beef wellington, which sounds – and looks – wonderfully impressive; but with only two of us eating (the children scorn real food) that seemed like overkill. Then the lovely Deborah of Debalicious told me that there was such a thing as an individual wellington made with a sirloin (or filet mignon) steak. And that some recipe used pate or fois gras instead of the mushroom duxelles. I was sold.

I read through several recipes and ended up using this one from Emeril, but not for much more than guidance about method and timing, really. I had read that the mushroom duxelles is all about adding flavor to a cut of meat so lean that it can be flavorless by itself. B doesn’t like mushrooms, but I decided to use a layer of caramelized onion, deglazed with vermouth, instead. I found some duck liver pate in the local supermarket, so that was my top layer, and I used frozen ready-made puff pastry to wrap up the barely seared steaks. (Next time I will remember to defrost the pastry before I need it.)

Dinner plate with individual beef wellington, green beans, and roast potatoes

The thing I was most afraid of was overcooking them, because when you have an expensive cut of beef the worst thing you can do is waste it by turning it tough and grey. I cooked it for barely the required 20 minutes and rested it for ten, and the inside was quite pink. Maybe a tiny bit too pink, if I’m honest. The pastry was also not quite as crisp all over as I’d have liked; I put it down to not having been thoroughly defrosted. But in all, for a first attempt, it was quite a success. B certainly cleared his plate in no time flat. He’s a good audience that way.

Inside the wellington

I served it with lemony green beans (Nigella, Feast) and amazing roast potatoes, if I do say so myself, which may not have been a strictly necessary carb, but are the one part of real Christmas that we can’t do without.

And then cheesecake, perfectly unadorned.

Cheesecake, sliced, and glass of wine

Later, to fill in any tiny gaps around the edges that might have developed, there was Christmas cake. I don’t like Christmas cake myself, but reports from the front line are favourable.