Saturday, 23 October 2010

Some inspirational ideas

Having had a bit of an apple theme going on recently, my attention has now turned to my pears. Steve popped out to the allotment last Saturday afternoon on a mission to pick some more beans before the frosts arrived so I requested he checked on the pears at the same time. In the end, he came back with a wheelbarrow full of stuff including a couple of enormous marrows, a good deal of broccoli, a few beans and quite an impressive yield of pears. The pears, he informed me, had mostly been on the ground so he had picked all that was left and brought them home. These were the conference pears so apart from the slug damaged ones they should store quite well for a week or two.

Steve stashed most of the pears in a cardboard box in the shed but placed a couple of damaged ones on the draining board. They lurked there through most of Sunday and every time I came to the sink I wondered what I should do with them. I contemplated cutting them up and feeding them to my youngest daughter but to be honest they were so dripping with juice I would have had to have striped her off and sat her in the bath if she was to eat them without making a mess!

Then late Sunday afternoon I was struck with inspiration and decided to add grated pear to an Eccles cake recipe. So there I was rolling out puff pastry with one hand whilst cooking a roast dinner with the other. The kitchen, which often suffers during the production of the Sunday roast, looked devastated by the time I sat down to eat. But looks aren't everything, and as we tucked into our roast turkey the delicious smell of roast dinner was replaced with the equally appealing smell of cooking Eccles cakes.

Just as we finished our main course the Eccles cakes came out of the oven and as they cooled down I asked my daughters if they would like one for afters. My youngest, a huge food fan at the best of times and particularly keen on "afters", agreed readily. In contrast, my eldest, who is naturally suspicious of food and somehow half-expects me to poison her, instead asked me what is in an Eccles cake.
"Eccles," Steve replied, quick as a flash.
She raised her eyebrow and gave him her best "don't be silly, Daddy" expression. Somehow this was lost on my youngest, as later when she saw me spooning the last bit of left over filling into a container she said, "Is that Eccle, Mummy?". So now I have a tub of Eccle in my fridge and it makes me smile every time I see it!

Anyway, the Eccles cakes were delicious. I'm not sure I have ever eaten hot Eccles cakes before but I'm a fan now. Best of all, after cooking 6 on Sunday I froze the remaining 12 and have since cooked 2 more batches this week so we have been eating fresh Eccles cakes all week.

Peary Eccles Cakes (makes 18)

1 oz (25g) butter
9 oz (250g) mixed dried fruit
4 oz (110g) light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
Juice of one small lemon
2 ripe pears
1 block of ready-made puff pastry
Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 220°C, gas 8 and grease a baking tray. Melt the butter in a pan then stir in the dried fruit, sugar, spices and lemon. Peel the pears and grate them into the fruity mixture and stir well. 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 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 Eccles cakes on the baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Alternatively, place the Eccles cakes on a tray and freeze raw. Can be cooked from frozen for about 25 minutes.

Also this week, I turned a few more pears into my lovely Figgy pear mincemeat. This has got to be my favourite mincemeat recipe. Do I say that for all my mincemeat recipes? Then, with half a pack of dried figs left I decided to convert a date slice recipe into a Figgy Finger recipe instead.

Figgy Pear Mincemeat

1½ to 2 lb (680 – 900g) pears
2 lb 4 oz (1 kg) mixed dried fruit
9 oz (250g) dried figs
1 lb (454g) Demerara sugar
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 fl oz (150ml) sherry

Put the mixed fruit in a non-metallic bowl, grate in the pear and use scissors to snip in the figs. Add the remaining ingredients, stir well, cover and leave overnight. Heat in a preserving pan until boiling then simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer into warmed jars and seal immediately.

Figgy Fingers

8 oz (225g) dried figs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablesoons water
5 oz (150g) oats
2 oz (55g) self-raising flour
2 oz (55g) wholemeal flour
2 oz (55g) light brown sugar
4 oz (110g) butter

Preheat oven to 190°C (gas 5) and grease a shallow tin or baking tray. Snip up the figs and place them in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for 10 until soft. Place in a blender and blend until smooth. You may wish to force the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds. In a bowl, cream together the sugar and butter then add the flour and oats and mix until it just binds together. Press half the oat mixture into the tin. Spread the fig paste onto the oat base then cover with the remaining oat mixture and press to form a sandwich. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Mark out the biscuit whilst still hot then allow it to cool completely in the tin.

Then on Thursday, my eldest daughter brought home a homework sheet that included a recipe for banana and marshmallow cheesecake. I was quite excited about what appeared to be an interesting and unusual piece of homework until I realised that the task was merely to read the recipe and answer comprehension type questions on it. Still, not one to pass up an opportunity, I suggested to my daughter we should also make the cheesecake... I mean, banana and marshmallow cheesecake... who could resist? Having then read the recipe through I began to wonder if someone had just made it up for the sake of producing a worksheet but by now I was committed to the task so decided to do my best to adapt the recipe into something that might actually work. I'm glad to say that I managed this, even if it did look a bit like a clown's custard pie when we were done. It tasted good and the slightly melting pieces of marshmallow in it added interesting texture. Having produced that my daughter then told me it was time I wrote a mini-guide to cheesecakes book to add to my collection of other mini recipe books. Well, you know, that's not a bad idea.

Banana and marshmallow cheesecake

115g (8 biscuits) crushed digestive biscuits
55g (2 oz) melted butter
142ml (4 fl oz) whipping cream
75g (3 oz) cream cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 very ripe bananas
25g caster sugar
6-9 large pink and white marshmallows, cut into small pieces
A little chocolate

Crush the biscuits and mix with the melted butter then press into the base of a flan dish and refrigerate. Slowly beat together the cream and the cheese and whisk until thick. Mash the bananas and mix in the lemon juice to prevent it browning. Carefully fold the bananas, sugar and marshmallow pieces into the creamy mixture. Spoon over the biscuit base then finish by grating some chocolate over the top. Return to the fridge to set and serve cold.

With quite a few pears left in the box in the shed I'm thinking I might try my hand at some sort of pear jam tomorrow and whilst I'm at it I might just see if I can invent a pear cheesecake!

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