My favourite part of this time of year is the chance to cook. I spent most of yesterday afternoon in the kitchen cooking for friends that were visiting, and it was lovely.
The main thing that I start cooking at the start of December are Mince Pies. These are little mouthfuls of Christmas, and so much better than the commercially made ones.
I start by making a huge batch of mincemeat, and then store it in the fridge and just scoop out what I need every 4 or 5 days to make another batch.
The recipe, like so many of the seasonal things we cook comes from Delia Smith's Christmas cookbook. A second hand copy can be yours for the princely sum of 1p on Amazon... If you don't own a copy, then you should!
450g Bramley Apples chopped in to small chunks (no need to peel)
225g Shredded Suet (you can get vegetarian suet)
225g Chopped, candied mixed peel
350g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
4 teaspoons ground mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
The original includes 50g of almonds cut in to slivers, but I leave them out and don't miss them. It also has Brandy added at the end, but I'd rather drink it, and again, I don't notice it's not there!
Stir everything together in a large bowl, and leave overnight for the fruit to absorb the liquid.
I the put the whole thing in our large slow cooker on low for several hours. You know it's cooked when the apple is no longer visible as definite chunks, and the whole thing has gone an even colour.
Delia gets you to out it in the oven on very low (Gas Mark 1/4, 225F, 120C) for 3 hours, but one year the oven thermostat failed, overheated, and turned the whole thing in a carbonised lump welded on to a pyrex bowl.
It will look like there is far too much fat... there isn't. Give it a stir now and again as it cools, and it will all be fine.
For the mince pies...
You need Shortcrust pastry. I make mine with half lard, half butter, but you can buy it.
Roll out thinly, and put in to shallow cupcake tins. Add a teaspoon of mincemeat (don't get too enthusiastic, or it will flow everywhere and then it sets like concrete, making it impossible to remove from the tins). I like to put a pastry star on top, rather than a complete lid. Bake in the oven at 180C until they are done... roughly 15 minutes, but watch them, they go from not cooked, too carbon at great speed!
The perfect pie size is 2 small mouthfuls, or down in 1 if you are feeling uncouth!
Mine never look very pretty, but they are tasty!