Duckie’s Mount Yum

[for meat-eaters, but can be converted to vegetarian]

In my (reasonably broad) experience of men, each likes to have their Signature Dish, a culinary piece that they’ve stumbled upon or invented (or mother used to make) and have tweaked to make it utterly Theirs. It is carried with them through the years, brought out to impress the chicks, and then served to the family proudly over the years and passed down from father to son etc etc… ok, maybe that last bit’s an exaggeration, but most of it rings true, no?

Best Beloved is a enthusiastic but slightly nervous cook. He travels widely in the foodie universe, but never without a guidebook. This following dish is one of the very few things he will cook without a recipe; it is a family favourite, and went nameless until I decided to blog it, upon which Bumblebee decided that it should be called Mount Yum. Before this, it was always know as ‘your/my chicken/nut dish’.

To celebrate the fact that it is made without a recipe on the bench, I will not be providing ingredient quantities. You need to think about how much each person can eat and provide enough of everything to divide between the number of people eating. There’s no right or wrong; substitutions are not only welcome, but encouraged. There are endless possibilities. Best Beloved rarely strays from his favourite combination, but the other day we had no pine nuts and I persuaded him to use slivered almonds rather than popping down to the shop. Lo! It worked! (Sigh.)

Please excuse the crockery, we’re waiting for it all to break. If BB had known I was doing this before he started, he would have brought out his collection of 60s Poole pottery!

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Dr Sister Outlaw’s justly famous Christmas pudding

I’m not joking. My Christmas pudding is about the best thing there is in the entire world. If you are in any doubt, ask Ampersand Duck, who paid tribute to it in 2007 after devouring one with Zoe and their other halves. For some years I’ve made special ones that I’ve set aside to give to Ducky and her Best Beloved, as they love them almost as much as I do and so, after much begging from Duck and some not so subtle hints from Zoe, I’m finally going to share the recipe. The world needs more pudding love.

I’d just like to say at this point that I hope nobody confuses my love of Christmas pudding with love for the festive season or even Christmas dinner. For me, the only good thing about Christmas is the pudding and it has to be perfect. This one is. It’s based on Stephanie Alexander’s mum’s recipe, AKA Emily Bell’s Christmas Pudding. However, over time I’ve worked in some important enhancements. Mine is more alcoholic and has nuts and treats in it. Best of all, I’ve learned how to do it vegetarian, which is helpful if you want to show Christmas love to people who object to consuming beef fat with their fruit.

Make it now so the flavour develops over the coming weeks. It takes some planning, so I’ve laid it out in stages – both vego and suet versions are included. The given quantities make two puddings, each of which furnishes about eight slices. You can do the math, because there are families in which eight slices will go a long way, but mine is not one of them. Just halve or double, depending on your pudding needs.

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Learn from my failures: how not to make recipe substitutions

I nearly called this post “I can believe they’re not Nigella’s Breakfast Bars!”

Like the lipsmacking voluptuary, I’m not much of a morning eater. I also like the idea of yummy home-made snacky bars to shove down the throats of starving children. I remembered hearing that Lawson’s recipe was a good one, and a quick googlescout unearthed it here.

It involves mixing a large quantity of relatively healthy sounding muesli-ish things with a whopping great can of sweetened condensed milk. It didn’t say “sweetened” but I that’s the only kind, isn’t it? The dulce de leche kind? I had everything but in the cupboard, so I decided to make it up as I went along.

I had some evaporated (unsweetened, low-fat) milk, but it seemed utterly wrong. What I needed was a certain … an unctuousness, a delectable musky sweetness – as Nigella well might say and indeed probably has ; ) Best I could do was mixing up a bunch of fruity sugary sticky things and hoping like hell that would bind the oats, coconut, seeds, nuts and dried fruit:

nigella breakfast bar Not a can of sweetened condensed milk

3/4 C sliced dried figs
1 T apple juice concentrate
dried orange peel
1/2 C water

Bring all ingredients to the boil in a small saucepan then cover and turn the heat off. (That is if you use proper dried figs that are actually dry, not those odd “soft juicy figs” that have a weird cola aroma and no texture to speak of. If you’re using those ones just carry on and never mind waiting.)

Stabblender the cooled mix with half a cup of apricot jam, and then add water to make it up to 1 1/2 cups and stir it into your dry ingredients. Bake for an hour at 130 C, grateful that you sniffed something awry with the “250 degrees” the recipe stated on Northern hemisphere sites.

btw, THAT PICTURE IS EFFING LIES! The result was horribly crumbly – you could excavate a “bar” from the tin with some effort, but they were flaccid and unappetising. Even thought they were a complete failure in textural terms, they did turn out to be very tasty muesli once you’d properly crumbled them up. I’ve just made up a second batch for Owen at his request.

Notes:
I used half (soaked) goji berries and half currants, a mixture of sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds and cashews in place of peanuts. To make the recipe again in the hope of making sturdier bars would require increasing the quantity of binding fluid. I’d still use the figgy mix but I’d add the sweetened condensed milk to make up the quantity (and perhaps a bit more) instead of the water I used here.


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