Sunday, 18 December 2011

From Old Rope To Bread Sauce

I’m sure that being December, almost Christmas and ‘tis the season to be busy, you wont have noticed I haven’t blogged much this month. Actually, only once (Oops). I apologise if I’ve let anybody down. Or rather I suspect that this is the part where teacher looks condescendingly down her nose to announce, ‘you have only let yourself down’.

(Mind you I did just spell ‘condescendingly’ correctly first time round without angry red, zig-zaggy underline from Microsoft Word, thus inflating sense of self-worth. And twice at that! Ah, such pride.)

However this time of year on Mariquita is, without sounding ungrateful, a reasonably dull part of her year. In truth it is a duller but better time of year for me in equal measures. We’re not racing in any adrenaline fuelled regattas, winning trophies and exploring the food markets of the Mediterranean (awesome), we’re sanding, varnishing, taping up, removing tape, sanding, varnishing, taping up (you get the drift) on a cold, stationary boat in the same marina for 6 months. It is a time of year that does not make for pretty pictures of our normally exquisite Mariquita. Her ropes and lines are hanging up in a dusty container along with exciting stories worth blogging about.

However, as I may have mentioned in a few earlier blogs; we have weekends off. I sleep in a double bed. And I have some time for ‘My life’. Living in very close quarters on a busy racing classic boat with 6 other people, one ‘heads’ (shower room) and limited water rations tends to render such things as distant memories. Time to indulge in ‘me’ is a 6 month treat I don’t take lightly as I go into my 4th year aboard Mariquita.

And I refuse to blog about nonsense simply to keep my ‘numbers’ up. If I blog I want it to be a story or recipe worth telling.

This recipe is worth telling. This recipe means Christmas to me and I think that if I were to endure a Christmas without eating any, I would cry like a child with no presents under the tree. A proper chin wobble.

I have had actual arguments with at least two people, Bridget and Will Jones, about who loves Bread Sauce the most. Of course I always win hands down. I love bread sauce more than anybody in the world. There, it’s in writing now.

Bread Sauce is not just for Christmas, it’s for life. Really good bangers and mash are upgraded to first class with the addition of some bread sauce at any time of year. But cold, left-over bread sauce scooped out of the bowl with a left-over chipolata on Boxing Day rocks my world. It is a recipe of medieval origins that has stood the test of a time as a way of using up left-over bread and as an accompaniment to domestic fowl; turkey of course but also chicken, pheasant and goose but also as I mentioned before, sausages go beautifully dunked in the white spiced stuff hot or cold.

I guess it’s the addition of infused cloves and onion that make bread sauce particularly festive and I am counting the days before George and I fly home to the UK for Christmas with family and friends. A holiday! Time away from the boat and a great excuse to consume lots of delicious food and pints of bread sauce.

I frequently come across people who have never tried the very British bread sauce before so for you guys here is a solid recipe from none other than good old Delia Smith. Apart from never weighing my ingredients, I have always followed this method of making bread sauce. It works and it is delicious.

This could change your life, certainly your Christmas experience so prepare to be swooned by an ancient, simple sauce and then we can all fight over who loves it the most. What a fun fight that would be!

For a saucepan full of hot bread sauce to serve (me) 6 people you will need;

110g, 4oz freshly made breadcrumbs. A liquidiser/food processor does the best job of this. Stale bread was used because it was easier to grate that way and does make a delicious sauce but do use fresh in a blender if you can.
1 large onion
15-18 whole cloves
1 fresh bay leaf
8 black peppercorns
1 pint, 570 ml milk
50g, 2oz butter
2tbsp double cream (loosely)


  • Cut the onion in half, peel and stud both halves with the cloves. Put the milk into a non-stick saucepan with the clove-studded onion halves, the bay leaf and the peppercorns. Season with a pinch of salt.

  • Bring the milk slowly to boiling point then take off the heat, cover and leave in a warm place to infuse for at least 2 hours (a day is better!). This could be the back of the Aga/Rayburn or hob.

  • When you’re reafy to make the sauce, remove the onion, peppercorns and bay leaf from the milk and put to one side, don’t discard. Stir the breadcrumbs into the milk and add half the butter. Leave on a very low heat stirring now and then till the bread has thickened the sauce – about 15 minutes.

  • Put the onion and bay leaf back into the sauce and leave in a warm place until you are ready to serve. Then simply remove the onion and bay leaf and reheat the bread sauce gently, adding the other half of the butter and the cream. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

My mum would double the amounts Delia gives because my sisters and I would greedily pour unlimited amounts onto our turkey at Christmas. Also brown bread works just as well and you can use semi-skimmed or skimmed milk and omit the cream if you want to be a bit healthier about it but hey, it is Christmas.

I really hope you are all having a great Christmas so far, I hear there has been snow in the UK already and it has definitely got a lot colder here in France. Which is good, I like that. Means there is snow in the Alps for snowboarding!! Yeah!!

Thanks for reading, Merry Christmas everybody and


See, look dull.

A bit more shiny but still pretty dull


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Mince Pie Time!

It’s time to eat mince pies. I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to begin the mince pie making frenzy and I am going to have to eat many, many, many of them to make up for lost time. Oh shame.

So I made 24 mini mince pies last night. There are 4 left, 2 of which I’ve hidden for later. I haven’t eaten them all myself I hasten to add! I had a little help from George, Billy and Flo. Honest. But they are very good.

The main part of the Christmassy goodness of a fabulous mince pie is obviously the mincemeat, the recipe for which you can find in my November recipes. And now that I’ve eaten a fair few of them I do believe that I am qualified to say – it is a great mincemeat recipe. Actually, it’s the best.

Now a little mince pie trick I have found to lure people who have otherwise not been too fussed about them, is to reduce them in size. Simple. If you make mini mince pies, then they become a delectable little mouthful of bursting fruit and nut flavour. People seem more willing to commit to a mini mince pie and then after a little break, guaranteed they’ll be back for more.

Also, less pastry. Replace the pastry topping for a good nutty crumble and fall in love with mince pies all over again!

I do not say this lightly. I promise these are fantastically festive and tasty treats. Easy and fun to make and everybody loves them.

My confession here is that I bought the pastry. Yep, I was pressed for time and French, shop-bought, sweet shortcrust is pretty good. Maybe at the weekend I’ll do it properly and make my own pastry but on a Monday night, really the nights are so short! However as homemade is always best I’ll include the recipe for you.

I will make some with filo pastry too. Now those really are a treat, especially warm for desert with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of hot white chocolate sauce…

So for 24 mini mince pies you will need;

1 large jar of mincemeat

1 pack of ready-rolled sweet shortcrust pastry or;
225g/8oz plain flour
110g/4oz cold butter
80g/3oz sugar
1 egg yolk

For the crumble;
25g/1oz wholemeal flour
25g/1oz porridge oats
25g/1oz shelled walnuts
A good handful of flaked almonds
35g/1 ½ oz butter
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice


  • Pre-heat your oven to gas mark 5, 190ºC, 375ºF, 170º fan oven

  • If you are making the pastry yourself then put the flour, butter and sugar into a food processor and pulse until you have a breadcrumb texture. Then put in the egg yolk and pulse again until you have a nice yellow dough. If it is too dry to form a dough then put in some milk a teaspoon at a time until a dough forms. Chill in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm until ready to use.

  • Whilst the pastry is chilling (or before you open the packet), you can make the crumble mixture. It is tempting to make a lot of it, which is no bad thing because any remaining crumble can go in the freezer for the next batch. But you don’t need a huge amount for this recipe so don’t worry about the measurements I’ve given.

  • Put the wholemeal flour, oats, sugar, spices and walnut halves in a food processor. Add the butter, cut into smallish pieces. Then pulse the blender until you have a breadcrumb texture. It will look quite buttery but that’s fine. Then give the flaked almonds a bit of a scrunch and add those too, stirring them into the crumble. If you don’t have a food processor then rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs and stir in all the other ingredients. You will need to chop the walnuts up a bit with a knife and scrunch the almonds up as before. Pop the crumble mixture in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

  • So roll out the pastry and with a cutter or knife cut out circles to fit the mini patty tin. I got hold of some silicone ones which were dead cheap and work a treat. Line all the holes with the pastry nice and gently making sure you don’t stretch the pastry.

  • Once all the holes have been lined with pastry, use a teaspoon to fill them with the mincemeat. You can be fairly generous here, a nice little mound to make a good mouthful.

  • Top the mincemeat with generous spoonfuls of the crumble mix and then pop into the oven, on the middle shelf for 20 minutes until nice and golden.

  • Leave to cool in their tins until cool enough to handle then transfer to a cooling rack. Once they have cooled you can dust them with icing sugar and start on the mulled wine.

Delicious. The filo versions make a great alternative to the pastry too. I’ll make some this weekend and take some photos for you. They look very pretty as a Christmas canapé or after dinner treat.

I’ve been making pop-corn wreaths for the tree. It’s fun I have to admit though hard not to eat as much as I’m sewing. They get the glitter spray treatment tomorrow and I’m quite excited as to how they’re going to look. Might want to stop eating them at the glitter stage I guess. And it might seem a bit early but I’m putting the crew Christmas tree up this week. I think I could be more excited by it then the guys but that could mean I get to decorate the tree myself. Good news to a Christmas tree perfectionist.

Thanks for reading!