It’s so winter-y and Christmassy here in Suffolk, which is very beautiful (but does cause havoc with my internet connection!) And I have daughter No1 home now and we are getting ready for our first gathering with some friends this evening. It’s so lovely! We’re all keen to get into our Christmas family traditions, Geoff put the nodding reindeer onto the roof last night and the girls are ready to make the Pomandours (which we will force our guests into joining in with this Medieval activity this evening). As I sit here, writing this, I have a pan full of sugar syrup with Cardamons, Cinnamon, Stem Ginger, Juniper berries, Nutmeg and Mixed Spice bubbling away on the stove behind me making the base for tonight’s Mulled wine. This stuff sets us in our season and links us to each other in ever widening circles.
As little Italian kids growing up in rural England we had different traditions, on Christmas Eve we ate no meat, but Dad would make a monster pan of Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, Mum would make Strufoli and sticky honey Zepple, the house would be freezing, we had to share the sitting room space with under the sofa spiders the size of your head and Dad would disappear at some point under the cover of darkness to get us a tree (don’t worry the Pinewood on Hamilton Road still exists and is none the worse for those illicit Yuletide activities).
As I got older I just wanted to cook, I got my first cookery book for Christmas when I was 10 years old and the following year I got the ‘Readers Digest Easy Stages Cook Book’ (I think my Mum had gone into Tindalls and asked for a book that was suitable for a ‘learner’). I was a little obsessed with that book and I still have it, rebound, pages dusty with flour, in places sticky with sugar, but still a really great cookery book. It fed the flame of my love for wanting to feed people (Are you coming over? Great, I’ll make a cake! Do you want dinner?). It was in this book that I found a Steak & Kidney Pudding recipe. I couldn’t make it as I had no idea what suet was, my Mum would get me whatever I wanted to cook with but sometimes it was hard to tell her what I needed when I didn’t know what it was, so didn’t have the language in English or Italian to tell her. At one point I was keen on making bread and needed some strong flour and I saw an advert on the telly for a particular brand, so I asked my Mum to get me some packs of Country Life … and she came back with Country Life butter.
When I went to Catering college we did make suet puddings, all sorts, and I loved them.
Go on, try one, they are light and savoury and flavourful, just what a cold day is asking you to make 🙂
Steak & Kidney Pudding
2 tbsp plain flour (or cornflour or Bisto)
750g 1 lb 8 oz chuck or stewing steak, cut into chunks
300g 10 oz lambs kidney each cut into 6, (either get the cut up ones or else use some scissors to snip the tubes out, very easy to do, before you cut them into pieces just pinch the white bit and snip where it goes into the kidney)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, washed and chopped
200g 6oz Chestnut mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Bay leaf
2 tsp dried Thyme
2 tsp dried Parsley
2 tsp dried Rosemary
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 Anchovy fillet or a tbsp Worchestershire sauce (this is optional, but I say do it as it makes the beef even beefier!)
250ml/½ pt red wine
250ml/½ pt beef stock
500g 1 lb Self raising flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried Thyme
2 tsp dried Parsley
250g 8 oz chopped suet (beef or vegetable)
250ml/½ pt cold water
Butter or Oil, to grease
First you need to make the filling, I think it’s best to do this early in the morning, if you are an early riser like me, or in the evening the night before if you can’t do early starts.
Heat the oil in a large pan.
Over a medium heat add the onions, celery and carrots until they start to look transparent.
Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook over a medium high heat until they start to turn a little brown.
Now add the herbs. Stir.
Add the Anchovy, vinegar, wine and stock. Bring up to the boil. Pop the lid on and turn the heat down so that it is simmering away gently.
Cook for about 1¾ hours until all is tender.
Just check it now, you want the meat to still be just under the liquid after you have stirred it, if it looks too dry add some more water if it looks like soup, then remove the lid, turn the heat to medium high and allow some of the liquid to boil off.
Mix the 2 tbsp of flour/cornflour/Bisto with enough water for it to be like a thin cream. As the stew is simmering add half the creamy mix whilst stirring, has it made a nice gravy consistency? If too thick add a touch more water, if too thin add a little more of the mix.
Cook for a minute, then turn the heat off.
Get a spoon (you decide how big 🙂 ) and taste the mix. Now season it with salt and pepper. Pop the lid back on and forget about it all until about 2 and ½ hours before you plan to eat.
So it’s now a couple of hours before your meal! 😀
I use a 1½ lt pudding basin and I smear the inside with a thin coating of butter (I just use my hands) but you can brush with oil or use a spray oil if you like).
The pastry is too easy for words (try making them into dumplings -just spoonfuls popped into the top of a pan of simmering stew for 15 minutes … why call them dumplings? they’re so light and delicious)
Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and add the herbs.
Use a butter knife or spatula (or wooden spoon if you have to but it will stick more) to mix in the suet.
Now stir in the cold water to make a firm-ish dough. Cut off a quarter of the dough and set aside.
Roll out the rest to about ½ cm thick. Fold the circle in half then into a quarter. Feed the pointy middle bit into the middle of the basin and carefully unfold it so that it lines the basin. Coax it to fit into the corners but don’t tear though. It is a forgiving pastry and if you pay attention it will all be fine.
Use a spoon to add in the cooled meaty mix and fill to use a centimeter below the top of the basin(I filled mine to the brim because we are a greedy bunch and we wanted to eat it all there and then). Brush the exposed edge of pastry on the lip of the basin with water, just dip your fingers into some cold water and pat them onto the pastry.
Roll out the lid to fit and lay it on top and press the lid edges to seal it.
Take a sheet of aluminum wide enough to cover the edges with a good 2 com each side and about 1½ times as long and fold the sheet on top so that it looks domed and tent-ish.
Use some string to tie the foil under the basin lip and use more string to tie a stringy handle so as to be able to lift the basin out of the pan. Test the handle to make sure you can lift the basin before you start to cook it so you know it will not break or list dangerously at that last minute when everyone is waiting with a plate in hand.
Lower the pudding in a large pan half-filled with boiling water, cover with its’ lid and simmer for 2 hours.
As long as the lid is tight fitting it will be fine but do check the water level halfway though and top up with more boiling water if necessary.
15 minutes before you are to turn the pud out, grab a Savoy or Pointy cabbage and wash and slice it up, throw into boiling water for 5 minutes, drain well, melt a knob of butter and coat the cabbage with it.
Lift the pudding out of the pan. Remove the foil.
Get help now if it is a beast like mine! Turn it out
and serve immediately, with a good spoon of cabbage on the side.
This is a self contained beauty, I like the cabbage but it is really a dish all ready for eating all on its’ own.
Come and see me on Saturdays’ at Bermondsey Square Farmers Market in Southwark. It’s just off Tower Bridge Road, a short walk from The White Cube, Southbank and Borough Market.
All new customers will get a lovely washable cotton shopper as a ‘Thank you and please come again next week’ (Whie stocks last!)
Every Friday at about 6 pm GMT I publish photos of the items I have cooked for market. Have a look at the Facebook page.