Category Archives: Recipe

Christmas Chiken Liver Paté

Here’s a little festive something from the vaults that I’ll be making later…

Chicken Liver Pate topped with clarified butter, bay leaves and halved cherries.

We were entertaining the Anthropologist for a birthday lunch and with a guest who takes such care over her own entertaining a degree of effort is essential, such as making a new dish, or sacrificing several days and your sanity to prepare a little something from Heston Blumenthal [or, as on this occasion, both!]. And whilst there’s nothing new about chicken liver paté per se, I’d never done it before, so for me it counted.

I think I’d always imagined it would be a complicated business, but it turned out to be a surprisingly simple affair [unlike what was to follow!]. You can make it with just some sautéed livers, a splash of booze and some melted butter and seasoning – or you can phaff about a bit more, as here.

This will make enough for four, twice over, plus a little extra for a solo lunch or two. 

  • 400g of chicken livers [which when trimmed of sinew and any greenish parts yielded about 300g]
  • 200g of butter, plus more butter clarified to top the paté
  • 300ml of port, brandy, or madeira – or any mixture thereof, plus a splash more
  • 1 large banana shallot or 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, plus more for decoration
  • A few blades of mace

Place the chopped shallot or onion, bay leaf and mace in a small pan. Add the booze, bring up to a simmer and allow to reduce until the liquid has all but gone. Discard the bay leaf and mace.

Sautée the livers in a knob of the butter for three or four minutes each side. You want a nicely browned exterior and a pinky middle. You can finish them off with a glug of brandy in the pan and a quick flambé – by no means essential, but why waste an excuse for a bit of flambé drama?! You’ll feel more like Graham Kerr, and who could resist a paté made by the Galloping Gourmet? Melt the remaining butter. Tip the shallot and livers into a food processor, with any liquid and pan scrapings from the livers, and blend, adding the melted butter and a good splash more of your chosen booze as you do.

Season well, and scrape the paté into bowls or ramekins. Top with some clarified butter and decorate with bay leaves, pink peppercorns, cranberries and a grind of black pepper – or whatever takes your fancy. In the absence of anything else I ended up using halved glacé cherries. Chill for a few hours or overnight, but do remove from the fridge a while before serving.

Serve with cornichons, halved cherry tomatoes, and some good bread. You may find that your guests would prefer at least some of this to be toasted – I know I did! Then if you’re looking for something to follow it, and have a few days going spare, you could do worse than Heston’s liquorice poached salmon with vanilla mayonnaise, soy-marinated salmon roe, pink grapefruit cells and reduced balsamic glaze…

Mushroom and Lentil Cottage Pie

Mushroom and lentil cottage pie - half eaten!

We’ve had the Vegan round for tea again.

And it’s autumn. Time for comfort food. And mushrooms.

  • 500g mixed white and chestnut mushrooms
  • 20g dried porcini
  • one onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • a pinch of dried mint
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 250ml rioja
  • 1/2 tbsp plain flour
  • 400g tin of lentils
  • a small sprig of thyme
  • a bay leaf
  • some brandy
  • 1kg potatoes
  • 100ml almond milk
  • a knob of sunflower spread
  • 2 spring onions
  • fresh nutmeg
  • a few splashes of olive oil for frying

Soak the porcini in a pint of boiling water and leave to soak for at least an hour. Chop the spring onions finely and gently heat in the almond milk, then leave to infuse until needed.

Quarter the mushrooms and sauté briskly on a highish heat with a pinch of salt. You may need to do this is batches. When they’ve taken on some colour and are starting to squeak sprinkle with chopped rosemary, add a splash of brandy and tilt the pan to flambé. Let the mushrooms drain on kitchen paper. Next sauté the onions gently, adding the garlic and dried herbs  once the onions have softened. Add the tomato puree and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Return the mushrooms to the pan. Add the wine one glug at a time, allowing each to bubble away before adding the next. Sprinkle in the flour and combine well. Cook for a few minutes more then add the porcini soaking liquor. Chop the soaked porcini finely and tip them in. Add the bay leaf, ketchup, and the sprig of thyme tied up with string. Taste and season. Bring to a simmer and bubble gently for half an hour, until reduced and thickened. After 20 minutes add the lentils. If you have time allow this to cool – it’ll become firm and will be easier to top with your mash.

Boil the potatoes then mash, adding the strained, infused almond milk and sunflower spread. Season well with salt, pepper, and a good grating of nutmeg. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme sprig, and top the pie with the mash. This time I textured the top with the tines of a fork. Sometimes I’ll scallop it with the tip of a palette knife, like the one below. Finish in an oven at 190 degrees C for about half an hour, and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

We ate this with Delia Smith’s caramelised fennel, and some peas, and vegan and carnivore diners alike requested seconds!

Cottage pie with scalloped top

PS – you could add some finely diced carrots and celery once you’ve softened the onions. I – mistakenly – thought our guest didn’t care for either. 

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce – the 2014 edit

I’ve updated the original with my latest tweaks, and there’s still time to make this for Christmas.

A jar of Worcestershire Sauce steeping prior to being bottled.

I was quite surprised when I first found a recipe in one of Gary Rhodes’ books for Worcestershire Sauce, given that this is supposed to be one of world’s best kept secrets, the recipe only discussed by ‘those who know’ in the middle of a field. Anyway I made it as per Gary’s instructions for several years and it always went down very well with people who received it as a Christmas present – very good for cheese on toast apparently, as any Worcestershire Sauce worthy of the name should be. And then the there was the bombshell in 2009 of a Lee and Perrins employee apparently finding the original recipe in a skip! So much for the field, but frankly little we couldn’t have already deduced from the label, which brings me back to Mr Rhodes. Why, in his recipe, did he ignore so much of what the bottle already tells us about its contents? He includes no molasses or tamarind. I have added them back in, along with one or two touches of my own.

So whilst I don’t think Lea and Perrins should shut up shop just yet, if you fancy spicing up Christmas for your nearest and dearest you’ve still got time.

Should make a little over 1 litre

  • 1 litre malt vinegar
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp black treacle
  • 50g salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 birds-eye chilli, deseeded
  • 1 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 3 tbsps soy sauce
  • 2 tsps tamarind paste
  • 10 cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods, bruised with the back of a knife
  • 1 quarter tsp cinnamon and a piece of cinnamon or cassia bark
  • 1 third of a nutmeg [grated] and few blades of mace
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp good quality fish sauce [such as ‘Three Crabs’ brand]*

Place the vinegar, shallots and garlic into a pan and slowly bring to a simmer. Dribble in the treacle and stir well to dissolve, then allow to tremble gently for twenty minutes or so. Add all the other ingredients and stir well then cook for a couple of minutes more. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly as you warm a large glass jar in a low oven. Pour the warm mixture into the warmed jar and seal. This now needs to sit for a week, ten days, or even a fortnight, and should be shaken each time you pass the jar. Mine sits on the washing machine so that the spin cycle can shake it for me when I’m out.

When ready strain through a fine sieve, heat until just below simmering for two minutes, and when still warm decant into heated sterilised bottles. Never pour hot liquids into cold glass bottles, or cold liquids into hot ones – they should both be quite warm. Then seal and keep somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight until needed. There will be some sediment and you’ll need to shake the bottle before each use. I’d also keep the bottle in the fridge once opened.

Now then, who’s for cheese on toast and a Bloody Mary?

* If you saw my piece on Uyen Luu’s cooking class you’ll know about my conversion to proper, good quality fish sauce, and I wouldn’t dream of using cheap nam pla here.

Christmas Pudding Time Again

It’s that time of year again folks, and I’m running late, as usual. But my fruit is soaking now, and I’ll be steaming my puds next weekend. Here’s the 2010 original again. Dusting this off is now starting to feel like my own tradition, marking the start of the festive kitchen shenanigans…

Mixed fruits soaking for a Christmas pudding

Last Sunday was apparently ‘stir up Sunday’, the last Sunday before Advent when traditionally we’d begin preparing puddings for Christmas. However the Shopkeeper and I had been entertaining until the early hours and when I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror that morning the idea of taking some wrinkled old fruits and soaking them in booze was just a touch too ironic to contemplate.

Not to worry, there is still time to prepare your puddings. It’s really not difficult, and so much more satisfying than opening a shop bought box on Christmas day. I base mine on a recipe I first picked up in Waitrose nearly ten years ago but I’ve tinkered with and tweaked it over the years. Unlike the precise science of cake baking, puddings are very forgiving of changes so you don’t need to agonise or work with milligram precision. Last year I realised two hours into the steaming time that I’d forgotten the flour altogether, and the puddings were none the worse for it. My main changes have been to reduce the amount of sugar and flour, and to up the fruit and booze content – I really can’t imagine making a Christmas pudding with only two tablespoons of brandy! I also try to find an interesting mix of fruits to add to the basic raisins and sultanas. For instance this year we have some ‘Persian Delights’ dried fruit mixes in the shop which include pineapple, papaya and mango, so a packet of these has joined the other fruits in their brandy, orange juice and spice bath. And I have to have halved glacé cherries! They were always there in my childhood Christmas puddings, feel free to add any childhood memories of your own.

These quantities will make two 1.5 litre puddings, each big enough for eight people with some to spare [no harm in having a spare, and they make great gifts]. If you only want one, halve these quantities but the cooking time will be the same. You can also make small individual puddings which will take just two hours to steam.

  • 1.2 kg dried fruits, including 350 g each of raisins and sultanas, the rest made up of a mixture of whatever takes your fancy from cranberries, apricots, cherries [dried or glacé], blueberries, candied peel, etc. The more the merrier!
  • 500 ml stout
  • 200 ml brandy
  • 1 tbsp toffee vodka [optional]
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250 g suet [vegetable suet can be used if vegetarian]
  • 100 g flour
  • 200 g breadcrumbs
  • 100 g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 large apple [Bramley for preference] peeled and grated
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 silver coin, any currency or denomination!

Start by mixing the dried fruits with the orange juice and zest, spices, stout and brandy [and toffee vodka if using]. Leave to soak for a couple of days, stirring from time to time. Mine is doing this now [on top of the washing machine to make best use of the vibrations] and every stir fills the kitchen with the smell of Christmas.

When I’m ready to cook this tomorrow I’ll add all the other ingredients and mix well. Traditionally everyone in the house should stir the mix whilst making a wish, and I might even invite a few of the neighbours to have a go just to make sure. Grease the pudding basins [1.5 litre capacity] and fill them to a couple of centimetres below the rim, tapping and pushing down well to make sure there are no gaps or air bubbles.

The only really fiddly bit is sealing the basins for steaming, and if you really can’t be bothered then you can buy plastic versions with clip on lids. Otherwise for each basin cut two large squares of greaseproof paper and one of foil and stack them with the foil on top. Fold once near the middle, and then back again about two centimetres away to make a pleat. Cover the top of the basin with your pleated sheets and tie around with string. It will help if you can loop through another piece of string to make a handle, but this is easier with four hands so enrol a helper. You let your neighbour make a wish didn’t you? Well it’s payback time.

A wrapped Christmas Pudding ready for steaming

Place each sealed basin onto a trivet [an upturned heat-proof plate will do] in a pan and carefully pour in boiling water to around half way up the basin’s sides. Cover the pan, and once simmering steam the puddings for six hours. Check the water from time to time and top up as necessary. Six whole hours when you can’t leave them entirely alone but they will require little of your attention – time to do some online Christmas shopping perhaps, or to write your cards?

Once they’re done allow the puddings to cool, remove the foil etc., wipe the bowls clean and decide whether you plan to reheat them by steaming again or in the microwave. If the former then repeat the wrapping process described above. If you’re microwaving then simply cover well with two or three layers of clingfilm. Place the puddings somewhere cool and dark [I wrap them in plastic bags too] and forget about them until Christmas morning.

Come the big day heat your pudding by steaming for two hours, or give it six minutes on full power in an 850 watt microwave. Wrap your silver coin in foil [easier to find, less easy to swallow by accident, and cleaner] and make a slit in the base of the pudding to insert it. Ease the pudding from its bowl onto a plate, warm a ladleful of brandy, pour over and set alight. I can never resist a sprig of holly too.

You might want custard or cream, but I must have brandy butter with this. Recipe to follow when I make it a week or so before Christmas…

Lobster Macaroni Cheese

Lobster Macaroni Cheese

I wasn’t planning to share this, as I just used Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his new Comfort Food collection, with none of my own tweaks or touches. But for three reasons I decided to say something about it…

  1. It’s delicious! It damn well should be, being easily the most expensive mac and cheese dish I have ever made, or ever will, but still – it’s delicious! And I think more people should know about it and treat themselves.
  2. My diners agreed about the deliciousness thing – one came back for seconds, four times! – and asked me to write about it.
  3. I photographed the dish against a black and white gingham tablecloth which rendered extracting the foreground image several miles beyond the farthest limits of my photoshop skills. Enter Vern, my genius photographer friend from Singapore. He worked his magic, but claims it nearly sent him blind, so I wanted to share to thank him for his help and the sacrifice of his dear departed eyesight.

Jamie hasn’t made the recipe available online yet, he clearly wants you to buy the book. If that changes I’ll post an update. So for now no recipe, just a description. Essentially it’s about pimping your cheese sauce – make this with equal parts gruyere, cheddar and parmesan, sauteing an onion in butter at the start of your roux, and enrich with a couple of anchovies, some white burgundy, mustard, cayenne pepper, and of course the meat of the lobster. Mix the sauce with cooked pasta, top with breadcrumbs, garnish with the head and tail shells, and finish in the oven.

You won’t want this every day, and unless you’re an oligarch with a couple of football clubs and a a few hundred metres of yacht, the housekeeping probably wouldn’t stretch to that, but once in a while we all deserve a little indulgence. And it doesn’t get much more indulgent than this.

#ComfortFood

Lamb Shanks

Lamb shanks marinating in red wine, with garlic, rosemary, cassia bark and juniper.

Looking back I surprised myself by finding that the recipe upon which this is based doesn’t actually include rosemary. It’s lamb for heaven’s sake! Surely if you marinate lamb without rosemary it becomes a police matter? Nigel Slater’s original [which I can’t find online, he must want you to buy the book] used thyme. But my most fondly remembered version of this was made using the extravagantly perfumed sprigs of the council funded, ‘help yourself” rosemary bush by the post office in Salcombe, Devon.

Ditch End across the estuary in East Portlemouth, the sumptuous seventies porn-palace of a house where we stayed, has since disappeared – I hope the same isn’t true of the municipal herb garden.

for two

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • rosemary sprigs, several
  • 2 bulbs of garlic, sliced in half across their equators
  • a bay leaf
  • a piece of cassia bark [or a cinnamon stick]
  • sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons
  • an onion, chopped
  • red wine, a bottle [something full and fruity]
  • a dozen juniper berries, lightly crushed and wrapped in muslin
  • anchovy fillets, a couple
  • flour
  • oil

Marinate the lamb in the wine, with the sherry vinegar, garlic, rosemary, bay, cassia and juniper. Leave this at least overnight. I think the Salcombe version was delayed by a day and so had a good 48 hours.

Heat some oil in a heavy, lidded casserole dish. Pat dry the marinated lamb, toss it in a little flour, and brown well on all side. Set the lamb aside and soften the onions in the same pan, adding more oil if necessary. Once the onions are soft and golden chop the anchovy fillets well and add to the pan, cooking for a couple of minutes more.

Return the lamb to the pan. Remove the juniper parcel from the marinade then add the rest to the casserole, and bring to a simmer. Now into the oven, for either 2 hours at 200°C, or 4 hours at 150°C. Remove the finished lamb to somewhere warm to rest whilst you check the sauce for seasoning, fish out the rosemary sprigs and bay leaf, and thicken if necessary. The garlic should be yieldingly soft, and depending on your taste you might smoosh [this word exists, so they tell me!] some of the softened innards into the sauce whilst removing the papery skins, or discard them altogether – their flavouring work is done.

Serve with – what else? – mash!

 

#clocksgoback recipe

Crab Spag Nam Jim

A crab shell with red chillies and a halved lime

Inspired by a classic salad from Skye Gyngell – not someone I’d automatically associate with Asian food, but what the heck – I turned this into a pasta supper. It might sound odd to include Parmesan here, but it works. Honest! The key to this is to use only the best quality fish sauce* you can find. A traditional Nam Jim dressing would include coriander roots and stems, and if you wish to ruin the dish please feel free to do the same – can you tell I’m not a fan?

Feeds Two

  • 220g Spaghetti
  • 120g Crab [mixed brown and white meat]
  • 1 Banana Shallot
  • 2 Red Chillies
  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • A pinch of Palm Sugar
  • 3 tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 60g Parmigiano Reggiano [grated]

Whilst the pasta cooks, finely dice the shallot and chilli and soften with the crushed garlic in a little oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and a ladle of the pasta water. Allow the al dente pasta to finish cooking in the sauce.

*Readers of my recent Vietnamese adventure will remember that Uyen recommends the Three Crabs brand.

Mint and Wild Garlic Sauce

Mint sauce with added wild garlic.

So this was a bit of a risk. The Shopkeeper is quite clear about his mint sauce requirements – finely chopped mint [plenty of], a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, vinegar. And some lamb to put it on. And that’s it.

That’s how it is, and how it was, and how it always shall be. [There’s a prize for anyone who can identify the film reference there.]

And then I thought, what about adding some chopped wild garlic to the mix? After all lamb and garlic have always been the best of friends. So the lamb committee was convened in an emergency session, eventually granting permission to proceed, whilst managing to maintain a decidedly dubious air.

But it worked! So give it a try if lamb’s your choice of roast this Easter.

PS – had some trouble getting a circular crop on the above photo as I made the pot too, and it’s not quite, er, circular!

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Christmas Pudding Time Again

It’s that time of year again folks, and I’m running late, as usual. But my fruit is soaking now, and I’ll be steaming my puds next weekend. Here’s the 2010 original again. Dusting this off is now starting to feel like my own tradition, marking the start of the festive shenanigans…

Mixed fruits soaking for a Christmas pudding

Last Sunday was apparently ‘stir up Sunday’, the last Sunday before Advent when traditionally we’d begin preparing puddings for Christmas. However the Shopkeeper and I had been entertaining until the early hours and when I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror that morning the idea of taking some wrinkled old fruits and soaking them in booze was just a touch too ironic to contemplate.

Not to worry, there is still time to prepare your puddings. It’s really not difficult, and so much more satisfying than opening a shop bought box on Christmas day. I base mine on a recipe I first picked up in Waitrose nearly ten years ago but I’ve tinkered with and tweaked it over the years. Unlike the precise science of cake baking, puddings are very forgiving of changes so you don’t need to agonise or work with milligram precision. Last year I realised two hours into the steaming time that I’d forgotten the flour altogether, and the puddings were none the worse for it. My main changes have been to reduce the amount of sugar and flour, and to up the fruit and booze content – I really can’t imagine making a Christmas pudding with only two tablespoons of brandy! I also try to find an interesting mix of fruits to add to the basic raisins and sultanas. For instance this year we have some ‘Persian Delights’ dried fruit mixes in the shop which include pineapple, papaya and mango, so a packet of these has joined the other fruits in their brandy, orange juice and spice bath. And I have to have halved glacé cherries! They were always there in my childhood Christmas puddings, feel free to add any childhood memories of your own.

These quantities will make two 1.5 litre puddings, each big enough for eight people with some to spare [no harm in having a spare, and they make great gifts]. If you only want one, halve these quantities but the cooking time will be the same. You can also make small individual puddings which will take just two hours to steam.

  • 1.2 kg dried fruits, including 350 g each of raisins and sultanas, the rest made up of a mixture of whatever takes your fancy from cranberries, apricots, cherries [dried or glacé], blueberries, candied peel, etc. The more the merrier!
  • 500 ml stout
  • 200 ml brandy
  • 1 tbsp toffee vodka [optional]
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250 g suet [vegetable suet can be used if vegetarian]
  • 100 g flour
  • 200 g breadcrumbs
  • 100 g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 large apple [Bramley for preference] peeled and grated
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 silver coin, any currency or denomination!

Start by mixing the dried fruits with the orange juice and zest, spices, stout and brandy [and toffee vodka if using]. Leave to soak for a couple of days, stirring from time to time. Mine is doing this now [on top of the washing machine to make best use of the vibrations] and every stir fills the kitchen with the smell of Christmas.

When I’m ready to cook this tomorrow I’ll add all the other ingredients and mix well. Traditionally everyone in the house should stir the mix whilst making a wish, and I might even invite a few of the neighbours to have a go just to make sure. Grease the pudding basins [1.5 litre capacity] and fill them to a couple of centimetres below the rim, tapping and pushing down well to make sure there are no gaps or air bubbles.

The only really fiddly bit is sealing the basins for steaming, and if you really can’t be bothered then you can buy plastic versions with clip on lids. Otherwise for each basin cut two large squares of greaseproof paper and one of foil and stack them with the foil on top. Fold once near the middle, and then back again about two centimetres away to make a pleat. Cover the top of the basin with your pleated sheets and tie around with string. It will help if you can loop through another piece of string to make a handle, but this is easier with four hands so enrol a helper. You let your neighbour make a wish didn’t you? Well it’s payback time.

A wrapped Christmas Pudding ready for steaming

Place each sealed basin onto a trivet [an upturned heat-proof plate will do] in a pan and carefully pour in boiling water to around half way up the basin’s sides. Cover the pan, and once simmering steam the puddings for six hours. Check the water from time to time and top up as necessary. Six whole hours when you can’t leave them entirely alone but they will require little of your attention – time to do some online Christmas shopping perhaps, or to write your cards?

Once they’re done allow the puddings to cool, remove the foil etc., wipe the bowls clean and decide whether you plan to reheat them by steaming again or in the microwave. If the former then repeat the wrapping process described above. If you’re microwaving then simply cover well with two or three layers of clingfilm. Place the puddings somewhere cool and dark [I wrap them in plastic bags too] and forget about them until Christmas morning.

Come the big day heat your pudding by steaming for two hours, or give it six minutes on full power in an 850 watt microwave. Wrap your silver coin in foil [easier to find, less easy to swallow by accident, and cleaner] and make a slit in the base of the pudding to insert it. Ease the pudding from its bowl onto a plate, warm a ladleful of brandy, pour over and set alight. I can never resist a sprig of holly too.

You might want custard or cream, but I must have brandy butter with this. Recipe to follow when I make it a week or so before Christmas…