Sunday, 7 November 2010

Handheld food

This weekend was one for celebrating with fireworks and bonfires what with Guy Faulkes night and Diwali. And these celebrations often require us to stand around outside in cold weather, celebrating with food that is both warming and simple to eat in the hand. This is not always easy to achieve.

We started our celebrations on Friday night when my parents came over with a couple of boxes of fireworks. This has become a bit of an annual tradition for us, with all of us, bar Steve, sitting in the relative comfort and safety of our conservatory whilst Steve sets off the fireworks close to the windows. As such, we don't get as cold as we otherwise might and the need for handheld convenience food is less. Nonetheless, there does seem to be the need for a certain sort of food on fireworks night. Personally I would have opted for some sort of tasty sausage in a finger roll with ketchup, mustard and onions but the girls had already had a fireworks night special hot lunch at school that day which consisted of a sausage in a bun with potato wedges.

Instead, I went for the 2nd best option of a burger in a bun, using quarter pounder Aberdeen Angus Waitrose beefburgers. These I grilled then when they were ready, I toasted the sesame seed buns and assembled the base with the burger, smeared on some Dijon mustard, added a spodge of ketchup and a slice of cheese and put them back under the grill for a minute to melt the cheese before adding the top half of the bun. In the meantime, I made some chips and fried some onions and mushrooms together and served the whole lot together with a dollop of homemade red coleslaw.

Red coleslaw

1/4 red cabbage
1 raw beetroot
A small red onion
Salt & pepper
3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Finely chop the red cabbage. Grate in the beetroot then finely chop the onion and add that too. Season to taste then dollop in the mayonnaise and stir until well combined. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

The meal was well received and for afters I handed out homemade apple puffs. These I made as a modification on my Eccles cake recipe - just the same technique but with a cooked apple & cinnamon filling. The great thing about these is you get a lovely consistent mouthful of apple and pastry with every bite... and you can eat them in your hand with no need for custard or cream.

Apple puffs

2 apples
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 block of ready-made puff pastry
Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 220°C, gas 8 and grease a baking tray. Peel and core the apples and cut into pieces. Place the apples and cinnamon in a pan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan then cook gently for 10-20 minutes until the apples are fluffy. Set aside to cool. On a floured surface roll out the pastry. Use a large biscuit cutter (about 10cm in diameter) to cut out circles in the pastry. Place a heaped teaspoon of apple filling into the centre of each pastry circle then bundle to pastry up over the filling. Turn the pastry bundle over and flatten with a oval to make a thick biscuit of pastry with the fruity filling just showing through. Slash the biscuit 3 times with a sharp knife then brush with beaten egg and scatter with Demerara sugar. Gather up the pastry trimmings and repeat until all the pastry is used up. Place the pastries on the baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Alternatively, place the pastries on a tray and freeze raw. Can be cooked from frozen for about 25 minutes.

After dinner Steve braved the rain and went into the garden to light fireworks whilst the rest of us watched from indoors. Soon, however, it became clear that we would have to abandon the event as the fireworks were proving difficult to light and Steve was feeling cold and wet. So, despite having two boxes of fireworks left, my parents went home and we got the girls to bed.

I do feel that with a burger bun there is the need for only a few chips to go with it because the whole thing is quite filling. Otherwise I think I might have been tempted to serve it with jacket potatoes - another fireworks night classic. Recently I discovered that Charlotte potatoes make the best jacket potatoes ever. This was a surprise as I had always thought of Charlottes as waxy potatoes, perfect for boiling and using in salads. But, inevitably when you grow your own potatoes you never quite manage to dig them all up at the right time and we ended up growing some whopping Charlottes. They looked like baking potatoes so... I baked them! And you know what, they produced the most amazing crispy skin I have ever experienced on a jacket potato. So delicious were they that my fussy eldest daughter even ate the skin and whats more declared it her new favourite way to cook potatoes and nagged and nagged her father to go out and dig some more up. This he did so we had jacket potatoes for our second fireworks night on Saturday.

Whatever variety of potato you manage to get hold of the best way to bake one is to preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash and dry the potatoes then drizzle over some sunflower oil and add a sprinkle of salt then rub it in with your hands. Microwave the potatoes for about 5 minutes then place them in the oven for at least an hour. Remove them from the oven then slice open and serve with your favourite topping.

Nicely full of hot potato it was time to light the remaining fireworks. What a contrast in the weather - a cold, clear and calm night. Steve had taken the precaution of finding the weed wand in the shed - a long handled device that shoots flames out the bottom. This proved a most excellent firework lighting tool. Within minutes the fireworks were over so we wriggled into our thick coats and went outside to light 5 paper Chinese sky lanterns. As each one went up we made a wish and watched them until they were out of sight. Beautiful. Let's hope our wishes come true!

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