(Almost) According to Mary Berry: Mincemeat

Sometimes it happens that not all of one’s careful preparation can defeat the Real World.

My NaNo attempt continues to fail apace, and this week my careful planning for this blog also fell apart. Instead, I have Christmas plans afoot, starting with mincemeat, which I admittedly made a few weeks ago. The stitching of Christmas cards, though, has yet to begin. What’s that saying about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions?

Anyway, because of Mark’s aversion to dried grapes of any variety, normal mincemeat and mince-pies are out of the question. So this year I thought I’d make my own and dug up a recipe from Mary Berry.

And substituted the 525g of raisins, sultanas, and currants for blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and pears.

Mincemeat: Mary Berry

Really, a very simple recipe.

Put: 700g of various dried fruit (those above plus cranberries and some glace ginger), 100g mixed peel, 1 cooking apple, 125g butter/suet/cacao butter, 50g chopped almonds, 225g brown sugar, spices to taste (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, mixed spices), and the juice and rind of a lemon or lime in a big saucepan and heat gently until the butter/suet is melted. Simmer very gently for about 10 minutes.

Allow to cool completely, then stir in 200ml of your preferred alcohol: brandy, rum, sherry, mead. I used some Jack Daniels Winter Spice stuff.

Spoon into sterilised jars and keep in a cool place for up to 6 months. The sort of Christmas preparation you can do well in advance.

You should get about 4-5 normal sized sorts of jars out of this recipe.

Week Three: What’s the Fuss?

I started this journey into plant-based eating (I still don’t call it vegan because of the honey) because I wanted to know what people were raving about. I wanted to know if I’d feel healthier (not that I felt unhealthy) or more energetic (I’m naturally lazy).

Three weeks later, I still don’t know what the fuss is about and I’m no longer avoiding meat. And I feel much better for putting it back. I might not be more energetic than I was previously, but it gives me more energy than simply plants, and really what I need to work on is becoming a do-er, not a dreamer, and to work with my lazy inclinations rather than against them.

Yes, plants are tasty and meat doesn’t have to be the main component of every meal. But I need it in my diet in order for me to feel healthy and to function properly. So I’m going to spend the rest of Lent working out the optimal balance of plants and meats.

I will continue to avoid dairy and eggs, because I think that I do feel better without them (or at least without the dairy, which I know has an adverse affect on me, without being intolerant or allergic to it), and I shall be monitoring that side of it.

But meat returns.

Pie-Cakes

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These should have been fairy-cakes, I won’t lie, but I slightly over-baked them and they could probably have done with a splash of milk in the mixture. So they have a pie-crust sort of a texture, and I think they’re a bit like bakewell tarts with the glace icing on top. Tasty.

Ingredients:

100g cacao butter, melted

100g sugar

2 tbsp apple sauce

100g flour (self-raising or plain + a heaped teaspoon baking powder)

candied peel

How to Make:

Preheat the oven to about 180C and line a fairy-cake tray with cases. You should get twelve cakes.

Melt the cacao butter over a low heat and then stir into the sugar. Add the apple sauce and mix well. Fold in the flour and candied peel until well mixed. It should end up with a doughy texture. Add a splash of milk at this stage for a cake-batter, or leave as is to try for pie-cakes.

Spoon into the cake-cases and bake for about 20 minutes.

Allow to cool and decorate as desired. I used a lemon glace icing and freeze-dried raspberry pieces.

Week Two: Plant-based Eating

I think the one word to use to describe this second full week of plant-based eating is this: Exhausting.

Not, tiring having to remember or making complicated recipes (when do I ever?!), but tiring as in no energy and just wanting to sleep. Fortunately there’s been no over-riding craving for anything, otherwise I might well have given in.

Oh, and irritating. But that might just be the exhaustion and/or hormones.

Exhaustion doesn’t continue, does it? Because if it continues much longer, I’m probably going to chuck in the towel early.

Week One: Plant-based Eating

I won’t lie. This week was harder. More than once as I walked home from work I dreamed of cheese-on-toast. I could taste the melting cheddar, the dripping butter, the fresh bread…I know, I don’t tend to eat much dairy normally, but cheese-on-toast! My mother always says that that’s what she brought me and my siblings up on and it is my go-to comfort food. Not ice cream or chocolate, but cheese-on-toast.

Honestly, an adequate substitute for cheese-on-toast...

Honestly, an adequate substitute for cheese-on-toast…

I resisted, though. I had those fairy-cakes (although not for very long). And I’ve started making banana berry smoothies for breakfast (with frozen berries to make for a nice cool drink). And avocado and bread makes for a very satisfactory snack.

I still don’t feel like I’m missing out (except for when we go to coffee shops and I realise that all they offer without eggs or dairy is a fruit salad if I’m lucky and dried fruit and nuts if I’m not. They so need to branch out into vegan baked goods!) or that I’m starving myself. I like food, I like eating, and I like that I can eat lots without feeling like I absolutely must go for a very long run to burn it all off (not that that happens very often. Lazy, remember?).

It gets easier, right?

Coconut Lemon Fairy-Cakes

I thought, since fairy-cakes is where any beginner baker begins (or ought to, given the simplicity of the recipe), I thought I’d begin my vegan baking journey there too. That and I had a recipe to hand.

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Since we all know I’m lazy, I don’t intend to overly complicate my vegan baking experience by using recipes that contain tens of ingredients, most of which can only be found online or in Holland & Barrett. I’m going to be working on a simple substitution basis. So the results might be a little, um, mixed.

I will admit, though, to being quite pleasantly surprised by how well this throw-it-together-and-hope-for-the-best recipe worked, given my lack of experience baking like this. They turned out to be very tasty little fairy-cakes, although I think in future the icing requires more lemon. But anyway.

Ingredients:

100g each of coconut oil, sugar and flour (either self-raising or plain + 1 heaped tsp baking powder)

1 large, ripe banana, mashed

a splash of milk of your preferred variety (I used a rice/coconut combination)

1 tsp vanilla extract

(opt.) candied peel, lightly dusted in flour

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a twelve-hole cake baking tray with fairy-cake cases.

Cream together the coconut oil and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the mashed banana. Stir well, then fold in the flour and candied peel. Add the vanilla and milk until it has a proper cake-batter consistency (it should fall easily, but not run, off a spoon). I do wonder whether Malibu might work as well, in place of the milk. A later test, I feel!

Spoon into the prepared cake-cases and pop in the oven for about 15-20 minutes.

The icing is a simple glace icing with lemon flavouring.

These did not last very long. I was feeling quite cake-starved and just couldn’t stop myself from eating them…

The Beginning is the Easy Bit

I don’t know about you, but I always find the first few days of a shiny new project to be the easiest. Those are the days when I have the most energy and enthusiasm for whatever it is I’m excited about, even when I don’t know much about it. Actually, that’s the fun part: the finding out and researching.

So these first few days of Lent have been quite easy. I haven’t craved anything; my food is still tasty and filling; there’s a plethora of yummy-sounding recipes out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Two Potato and Leek Soup, with a fresh bread roll

Two Potato and Leek Soup, with a fresh bread roll

I feel hungry sometimes, of course I do. Usually about four or five hours after a meal, which is about right and the same as before. I don’t really trust all those diets which claim to make you never feel hungry again. Hunger isn’t something to be afraid of. You won’t starve by waiting an extra hour or so before your next meal. In fact, you should feel hungry at meal-times, otherwise you won’t enjoy your food.

And the wonderful thing about this plant-based eating is: I get to eat lots because it’s mostly all vegetables. Fruit for breakfast, veg for supper.

It’ll be interesting to see if it continues to be as easy…