Guilt-free Mincemeat



Last week, I was flicking through one of my old recipe books (bit of a fib there, because I was actually reading a PDF of a 237 year old book, but ‘scrolling through page scans’ doesn’t really conjure up the same image), when I came upon a recipe for Mince Pies for Lent.

Two things struck me:

  1. There’s no added sugar or suet in this recipe!
  2. Mince pies for Lent? That’s pre-Easter! Curious that we now seem to eat mincemeat in pies mostly at Christmastime.

Anyhoo, back to the more relevant thought – no added sugar or suet. Nowadays, we traditionally make mincemeat far in advance of the festive season, so that it can mature in flavour. Both the sugar and the suet act as preservative and so when Christmas rolls around, you’ve got a jar of deliciously spicy sweetmeat and not a fizzing, fermenting jar of goo.

The downside of course is having to be organised enough to remember to make it far enough in advance, making enough for those unexpected baking moments (such as surprise visitors, or a last minute school bake sale contribution), and not making too much so you have storage problems. Quite apart from it not being suitable for either vegetarians or vegans.

Here, hopefully, is a solution. No suet means it’s vegetarian and vegan. No added sugar means its more suited to people needing to control their sugar intake, for whatever reason – although there IS sugar in the candied peel, so this isn’t quite a sugar-free recipe. Best of all it doesn’t need maturing, it’s literally mix and go.

The mixture is gently warmed and the fruits absorb the sherry, brandy and fruit juices. The finely-chopped dates break down and bind everything together. The result is packed full of flavour and with a much cleaner and fresher taste. This mix makes just under 500g of ready-to-use mincemeat.

NB This will keep for up to a week in the fridge, but no longer. Cooked as mince pies and frozen – up to 3 months.

Guilt-free Mincemeat

50g currants
50g raisins – crimson raisins look pretty
50g sultanas
50g dates – finely chopped
25g candied orange peel [1]
25g candied lemon peel [1]
25g candied grapefruit peel [1]
35g dried cranberries
25g flaked almonds – chopped
2tbs sherry
1tbs brandy
juice & grated rind of an orange
pinch of ground ginger
a grating of nutmeg,
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of mixed spice
pinch of ground cloves

60-100ml apple juice

  • Put the dried fruits into a small saucepan.
  • Cut the candied peel into small pieces with scissors and add to the pan with the spices. NB If you’re using your home-made candied peel that has been stored in syrup, then there’s no need to soften it in the saucepan – just stir it in with the nuts once the fruit has plumped.
  • Add the orange juice and zest, brandy, sherry and 60ml of apple juice.
  • Stir gently to combine and set pan over the lowest possible heat.
  • Cover and let the mixture stew gently until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • If the fruit isn’t as plumped and juicy as you would like, add a little more apple juice.
  • The mixture should be moist, but with no liquid visible in the bottom
  • When you’re happy with the consistency, stir through the chopped, flaked almonds. [2]

Cost: £2.85 (using crimson raisins and home-made peel, November 2011)

[1] If you’ve made some candied peel yourself, then these are pretty straightforward. If not, then use 75g of what you have/can get. Buy whole peel pieces if possible – they retain their flavour much better than chopped – and cut them just before use.

[2] As a variation, you might like to include some chopped, fresh apple. However, please bear in mind that the juices in the apple will be released in cooking and might create SBIs [3].

[3] Soggy Bottom Issues. Which, we all know from the Bake Off, are to be avoided at all costs!

Candied Peel

Candied Peel


A pet peeve of mine (don’t get me started on the others, because there are many!) is when I’m reading an enticing food idea or recipe that makes a useful/practical/tasty suggestion – and then completely fails to tell you any further details. A favourite example (where favourite = sends me into a teeth-gnashing froth of outrage) would be the suggestion for leftover roast chicken, which ‘helpfully’ suggests using it as a basis for other meals – and then leaves it at that.

Erm, hello? Exqueeze me? *taptap* WHAT other meals? Just HOW do you expect me to use it??

You can almost see the airy, vague wave of the hand.

So when I started this blog, I decided that I would never suggest any additional items to an ingredients list without having previously including at least one recipe. It’s not something that has featured heavily in the recipe selections here yet, so it might have gone unnoticed, but an example would be the Pulled Pork Sandwich. I made the serving suggestion of including Barbecue Sauce and Coleslaw – and serving it in a Tiger Bread Roll – recipes which could be found on the blog.

All of which is a long and rambling preamble as to why this recipe is going up today. This week I happened to mention on Twitter that I had made some fat-free mincemeat with no added sugar, wondering if anyone would be interested. From the responses, people certainly were interested, so with the festive season approaching, a post about sugar-free, fat-free mincemeat should be popular.

‘Still not explaining the candied peel recipe’ I hear you mutter. So here’s the thing. The mincemeat recipe I put together uses home-made candied peel. ‘Whaaaaaaaat?? But I can buy that!’ you shriek. Yes, I know. But if you’ve ever tasted fresh candied peel made with nothing more than sugar, peel and water – you’d understand. I used to hate store-bought candied peel, and avoided anything that included it, but home-made just blows it out of the water. The explosion of citrus flavour is amazing. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can candy any citrus peel you like, and not be limited to just orange and lemon. So here, for anyone who fancies having a go, is how to do it. It’s not difficult or complicated, but it is a bit repetitive. But make a decent amount at one time, and you won’t have to repeat it for a good few months. Oh – and it’ll make your house smell amazing.

How To Candy Peel

Citrus fruit of choice

  • Remove the skin from the fruit. Slice off the top and bottom (to make a flat surface to stand the fruit on) and then cut the peel from the  sides of the fruit by slicing downwards. Keep as much of the pith as possible.
  • Scrape any flesh and membranes from the fruit rind. Don’t worry if you can’t get it all, it’ll become easier after the peel has been boiled. Leave the pith intact – it’s the pith absorbing the sugar that keeps the rind juicy and helps prevent it becoming hard.
  • Place the rind into a pan large enough to hold it plus an inch of water. Cover with clean water.
  • Bring water to a boil and boil for a minute or two then drain. Rinse the peel thoroughly, and also scrub the sides of the saucepan thoroughly as well. Why? The bitterness of the peel comes from the citrus oil in the skin of the fruit. Bringing the water to the boil helps release this oil, but it then floats on the top of the water, coats the rind when the water is poured off, and also congeals onto the sides of the pan. If you don’t rinse the peel and scrub the pan well, you just end up basically boiling the peel in the bitter citrus oil, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of repeated boilings.
  • Repeat until the peels are semi translucent and very tender. This will greatly depend on the type and condition of the fruit itself, but as a rough guide, lemons = 4 times, oranges = 5 times, grapefruit = 6 times.
  • Leave in a colander to drain well.
  • While the peel is draining, make some sugar syrup: mix 1 part water to 2 parts sugar. 500ml water to 1kg sugar is straightforward, but might leave you with a lot of leftovers, if you’re not making much peel. Not very helpful I’m afraid, but to my mind, it is better to have a little extra syrup, than have to make more once you’ve added the peels because there isn’t enough. I usually guesstimate by eye – and use non-standard measures (i.e. large mug or jug) and just measure by volume.
  • Heat the sugar and water slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil and continue to heat until the mixture is clear.
  • Squeeze excess water from the peels by pressing them between several layers of kitchen roll – or I find that using a clean hand towel works best – they’re surprisingly soggy peels!
  • Scrape off any remaining flesh and membranes using the side of a teaspoon and cut the peels into 5mm strips. [1]
  • Once the syrup is clear, drop in the drained peel. Make sure that there is enough syrup to allow all of the rinds to be submerged.
  • Bring syrup and rind to a boil then cover and put onto the lowest heat. Let it stew gently until the rinds become translucent and jewel-like (almost like coloured glass). Stir occasionally. This takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to speed things along, it’ll just harden the peel.
  • Store the candied peel in screw-top jars, making sure it’s completely covered by the syrup. This will keep it moist until required, and the high sugar content of the syrup will act as a preservative. When you need to use it in a recipe, rinse off the excess syrup and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Any excess syrup can be bottled and saved to drizzle over cakes or desserts. It will have a wonderful flavour.

[1] Since taking the photo to go with this post, I have tweaked the recipe instructions in order to make the candied peel easier to make, store and use. You can of course, keep the peels in large pieces if you prefer. Testing whether the fruit is tender is trickier with larger pieces of peel, so why not try this tip I picked up from an 18th century cook book: the peel is soft enough when the stem of a clove can easily be pushed through it.

Coconut and Lime Cupcakes

Coconut & Lime cupcake


This recipe was inspired by a song written and first recorded by Harry Nilsson on his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson.

I first heard it as the background music in a small bistro I used to waitress in, in my home town. NOT in 1971 I hasten to add – it was a good decade later – which…is still thirty years ago, so *ahem* moving quickly on….

It has a rather catchy/irritating chorus refrain…

Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both together,
Put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better,
Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both up,
Put the lime in the coconut, and call me in the moooooorning…..

…which has a habit of creeping into your brain and before you know it, you’re singing along. When I moved away to college, I ended up buying the album, as the song reminded me of fun times.

So it seemed an ideal combination for something else that’s fun – cupcakes! The opportunity arose a couple of months ago to come up with a couple of cupcake recipes and I remembered this song when pondering flavour combinations. The rest, as they say, is history: Soft and fluffy coconut sponge filled with a zingy lime curd. Confession: the swirl of Italian meringue on the top is merely an excuse for me to break out my Christmas present blowtorch and play with fire. “Say helloooo to mah leetle friend!” </scarface>

OK, so my blowtorch only stands 10cm high, but you get the idea.

This recipe has three components: the cake, the curd and the meringue. Of these three, only the meringue might be a little on the tricky side, but I’m going to share some helpful hints and tips I’ve picked up, to ease things along the path of success.

Coconut Cupcakes – makes 12
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
50g unsweetened dessicated coconut
80g soft margarine
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml plain yoghurt.

12 hole muffin/cupcake tin
12 cupcake paper cases
Frying pan

  • Heat oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan
  • Sieve flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and set aside.
  • Put coconut into a dry frying pan and stir over medium heat until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.
  • Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly in-between. Add vanilla.
  • Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and stir well. Add half the yoghurt. Stir well.
  • Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour and the remainder of the yoghurt.
  • Add the last portion of flour and, when thoroughly combined, stir in the toasted coconut.
  • Line a 12 cup cupcake tin with paper cases and spoon in the filling.
  • Bake for 15 minutes then turn the pan and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until evenly browned and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove cakes from the pan and cool on a rack.

Lime Curd
75g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
75g caster sugar
Juice of 3 or 4 limes (125ml)
zest of 1 lime

Small saucepan

  • Melt butter in a saucepan.
  • Add remaining ingredients and stir over low heat until thickened.
  • Set aside to cool.

Italian Meringue
100g egg whites (3 large)
pinch of cream of tartar
few drops of lemon juice
40g caster sugar
100ml water
200g caster sugar

Mixing bowl
small saucepan
sugar thermometer
piping bag
plain tip nozzle

  • In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites until foamy.
  • Add cream of tartar and lemon juice and continue whisking on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
  • With the whisk running, slowly add the 40g of caster sugar in a steady stream.
  • When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, stop the whisk until the syrup is ready.
  • In a heavy saucepan, gently heat the 200g of caster sugar and water, swirling the pan until the sugar is dissolved. NB Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallise and you will have to start again.
  • Turn the heat to high and cook the syrup until the soft ball stage on a sugar thermometer (115°C).
  • Remove the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup has stopped bubbling. If you’re not confident about pouring boiling syrup from a hot pan one-handed, pour the syrup into a plastic jug.
  • Switch the whisk to medium speed and slowly pour the cooked sugar into the stiffly beaten whites. NB This is the tricky part. If you are pouring the syrup straight from the pan, be sure your oven gloves are thick enough so that your hand is fully protected. Pour the sugar syrup in a steady stream so that it hits the side of the bowl just above the point where the beaters meet the side of the bowl. This will achieve 2 things: the syrup will cool and this will help avoid cooking and/or curdling the egg-whites and the beaters won’t get covered in sticky syrup.
  • Once all the syrup has been added, continue beating the egg-whites until the outside of the bowl feels cool. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.

To assemble the cupcakes:

  • With a sharp knife, cut a cone out of the top of the cupcakes and fill the hole with lime curd. Call dibs and scoff the leftover pieces of cake, claiming (om-nom-nom) cook’s priviledges Discard the cones of cake.
  • Spoon the meringue into a piping bag with a plain nozzle (or just snip the end of the bag if you are using disposable piping bag).
  • Pipe a swirl of meringue over the top of the cupcake, making sure to completely cover the lime curd. Finish with a nice pointy tip.
  • Using a blowtorch, lightly toast the outside of the meringue until the sugar caramelises.

Cross-section of Coconut & Lime Cupcake

Cost: Cupcakes = £1.45, Curd = £2.28, Meringue = £1.00, £0.40 per completed cupcake (July 2011)

Strawberry Chutney

Strawberry Chutney aka Fragolaceto


Today’s recipe is for strawberry chutney – or as the Italians call it: Fragolaceto! (I think the exclamation mark is compulsory) – which sounds far more poetic.

Actually, it’s not really a traditional chutney at all, since there’s neither onions nor spices here, just fruit, sugar and balsamic vinegar. This traditional Italian preserve is one of those unusual dishes that can sit on the fence between sweet and savoury and go quite happily with both.

You could warm it up and use it as a topping for ice-cream or perhaps a cheesecake – but my favourite way to enjoy it is with cheese and biscuits. A nice, strong cheddar, a crisp oatcake and a dollop of this – oh my!

It’s very simple and quick to make – just over an hour for this relatively small quantity – and depending on the size of your strawberries, about 250ml, or just over one cup. An ideal amount to decide whether you think this is as awesome as I do.

Allowing the strawberries to sit in the sugar first, and removing them after 20 minutes simmering helps the pieces keep their shape and prevents them from disintegrating during cooking.

I love the sound of the word ‘Fragolaceto’ (pronounced fraggo-la-SEE-toe), but  I think ‘strawberry chutney’ sounds more intriguing. Nevertheless, it might be easier to convince someone to have a spoonful of ‘Fragolaceto’ on their ice-cream!

Strawberry Chutney – Fragolaceto
500g strawberries
125g sugar
3tbs liquid pectin
60 ml balsamic vinegar

Frying pan
skimmer or slotted spoon
sterilised jar and lid

  • Wash and hull the strawberries.
  • Quarter the strawberries – if they are large, cut again. Pieces should be about 2cm.
  • Put the pieces in a bowl and sprinkle over the sugar. Toss gently, then cover and leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to allow the sugar to draw out the juices.
  • Pour the strawberry mixture into a wide, shallow pan and bring to a gentle simmer.
  • After 20 minutes, remove the strawberry pieces and place into the sieve over a bowl. Once the syrup has dripped through, pour it back into the pan.
  • Add the balsamic vinegar and pectin and simmer for a further 20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. The less liquid you have, the firmer the final preserve will set. If you want to use it as a dessert topping, I suggest making it on the runny side. You can always thicken it later if need be.
  • Return the strawberries to the pan and fold into the syrup. If it looks really too runny for your liking, strain the liquid from the fruit and simmer a little longer.
  • Pour into sterilised jar and seal whilst hot.

Cost: £1.82 (July 2011, Pick Your Own strawberries £3.00/kg)

Seedless Raspberry Jam


If you make no other preserves this year, make this one.

I’m serious. If you were here, I’d grab your lapels and lean disconcertingly close to your face whilst muttering this assertion. Look at that colour! Now imagine that colour as a taste explosion on your tongue! It’s incredible! I’m using far too many exclamation marks!!! Help meee!!!!!!!!

*takes deep breath*


For years I thought I disliked raspberry jam. No, I did actually dislike it – because all I could focus on was the seeds. A few years ago I was given a huge bag of raspberries and decided to make some jam because we’d all eaten as much of the fresh fruit as we could. Since I was running a bit low on jars, I thought I’d reduce the volume a little by sieving out the seeds and wow – what a difference it made. Without the distraction of the seeds, it was just pure, unadulterated flavour. Astonishing! This is now my number one favourite preserve.

“But I can’t make jam!” I hear you cry.  “Its all huge vats of boiling fruit…. mountains of sugar…pectin…setting point…hundreds of specialised sterilised jars…takes hours and hours….kitchens full of steam… and…and…and…”

To which I say, “Actually, not so much”.

Lets address possible objections one by one.

Huge vats of boiling fruit.
Its always puzzled me why, for the most part,  jam recipes consist of vast quantities of fruit. Yes, I know it’s all about preserving nature’s bounty for the cold winter months, but if you’re new to jam-making, and possibly you’re not sure whether you’re actually going to like a recipe, investing in huge quantities of ingredients might seem a little daunting. And even if it turns out that you DO like the recipe, you then have huge quantities of jam to get into jars and make sure it doesn’t get mouldy. Then there’s the giant preserving pans required. Actually, that’s not true. Preserving pans are really just large versions of ordinary pans and they’re big because of all the huge quantities of fruit that most recipes call for. They’re also large because they need to provide a large surface area to help with the evaporation of excess liquid, which will eventually lead to a jam setting. If you’re working with a small amount of fruit, there’s no reason why a broad, regular pan won’t do just as good a job – a deep, 28cm frying pan, for example.

Mountains of sugar
Not all jam requires vast quantities of sugar – it all depends partly on the fruit and partly on personal taste. Sugar is what preserves the fruit, so there is a minimum level below which you should not stray if you want the results of all your hard work to last. Apart from that, its pretty much down to personal taste. I don’t have a sweet tooth, yet I love seedless raspberry jam.

Pectin occurs in fruit in varying concentrations, and, together with some kind of acid, is what helps jam to set. If a fruit is low in pectin, you can either combine it with another fruit high in pectin or add a home or commercially produced pectin. The amount of pectin in a fruit decreases as it ripens, so the riper the fruit you’re using, the more likely you’ll need some additional pectin. Raspberries have a moderate amount of pectin, so if you use slightly under-ripe berries with a dash of lemon juice, you can probably get away without using any additional pectin at all. If in doubt, use preserving sugar which has pectin already added to it.

Setting point
This is the point where the concentration of sugar and pectin are such that, when cooled, a jam will set. This is the reason for (sometimes) prolonged boiling. The boiling causes excess water to evaporate, and this in turn means that the concentration of sugar in the mix increases. When enough water has evaporated, the jam sets. Traditionally this has been tested in several ways, but thanks to modern science, these days we can just use a thermometer. You can pick up a sugar thermometer for about £7.00, and it will have the setting point for jam marked at 105°C. Since water boils at 100°C, you can relax in the knowledge that all excess moisture will be evaporated by the time your jam reaches this temperature and your jam is going to set.

Hundreds of specialised sterilised jars
Hundreds? Really? I thought I was the one doing the histrionics here?? OK, so if you’re dealing with vast quantities of fruit and sugar, you’re going to need a lot of jars, but we’re not here, so we won’t. Calm down. When I was a child, jam was always bottled in Kilner jars, and these type of jars are still available today, with either a screw-down or clip-down lid and rubber ring to make the firm seal that is going to help keep your jam sweet and fresh. When I was at school, we learned how to make jam in ordinary jam jars and to seal the jars with waxed-paper discs, cellophane and rubber bands. There’s nothing wrong with using either of these methods, but each of them have drawbacks: Kilner jars are rather expensive and the waxed-disc method is tricky to get right, and getting it wrong means fuzzy jam. The solution is to re-use jars that would otherwise go into the recycle bin. Using a variety of jars means you can just use small jars to keep the jam fresh or offer as gifts. I find pesto jars particularly suitable: they hold a small amount and they have a freshness ‘button’ on the lid which can be re-set when you make jam. To remove labels, simply soak in hot, soapy water until they slip off. If the labels are a bit more stubborn, use a knife to scrape off the softened label and a scourer covered in washing up liquid to remove the glue. Use a range of sizes and shapes, large and small. If you have a dishwasher, then sterilising couldn’t be easier – pop the clean jars and lids in on a hot cycle. Leave the door closed until you’re ready to use them. In the oven, put jars and lids on a baking tray and slide into a cold oven. Turn the heat to 100°C for 30 minutes.

Hours and hours with kitchen full of steam
No. The beauty of this recipe is that it takes very little cooking time at all – 3-5 minutes at most. No water is added to the fruit, so there’s not much excess water to be got rid of, and the less a jam is cooked, the brighter the colour and the better the flavour.

So if that’s all settled, on with the recipe!

Seedless Raspberry Jam
1.2kg raspberries – slightly under-ripe if possible.
Approximately 1kg granulated or preserving sugar (see above)
Juice of 1 lemon (optional)

1 oven-proof bowl
1 wide, deep pan
a fine-meshed sieve
Plastic bowl
wooden spoon
sugar thermometer
A selection of jars and lids

  • Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water and arrange on a baking tray.
  • Put the raspberries into the oven-proof bowl.
  • Put the jars and raspberries into the oven and heat to 100°C for 30 minutes. This will both sterilise the jars and encourage the juice in the fruit to run and make the next stage easier.
  • Remove the raspberries from the oven. Leave the jars in the oven to keep warm and reduce the temperature to 80°C.
  • Weigh your bowl, write it down somewhere and put the sieve over the top of the bowl.
  • Pour the softened fruit and juice into a sieve and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice and pulp as possible. NB It’s probably best to do this a small quantity at a time. You need to keep stirring/pressing until there is nothing left in the sieve but a solid mass of seeds. I won’t lie to you, this takes a while, but its well worth it. Keep scraping the sieved pulp off the bottom of the sieve with the back of the knife. Don’t use the spoon, as you might accidentally get some seeds fall into the pulp. Discard seeds.
  • When done, weigh the bowl again and subtract the bowl’s original weight to find the weight of the juice and pulp.
  • Add this and an equal weight of whatever sugar you are using to your large pan. NB Warming the sugar will make it dissolve more easily.
  • Over a very low heat, stir gently until all the sugar has dissolved.
  • Taste and add lemon juice if liked.
  • Turn heat to high and, using a sugar thermometer, heat rapidly to 105°C. NB This shouldn’t take long at all. Even if it’s not quite reached 105°C, remove from the heat after 5 minutes – prolonged boiling will ruin both flavour and colour.
  • Remove from heat and pour into warmed jars to within 1cm of the top. Seal immediately. As the jam and the air trapped in the jar cools, it will contract and eventually pull the ‘safety button’ on the lid back to it’s original position. After making a batch of jam I love sitting listening to the ‘bink!’ of the lids safely sealing in all that wonderful flavour.

Variation: Not much, except to say that you can easily scale this recipe up if you want to make a larger batch. Just be sure to use an equal weight of sugar to pulp and you can make this with any amount of fruit you like.

Cost: In season, as little as £1 per pound of finished jam.