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On Monday, English home cook, author and former food journalist Mary Berry — star of The Great British Bake-Off and her own television shows (BBC) — introduced the British public to the traditions behind Good Friday and Easter foods.

The first of two episodes of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 saw her explore traditions in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland. I highly recommend it. Below is a synopsis of the first programme with additional information from other sources.

Berry, an Anglican, told us that she is a regular churchgoer. She said she goes to Sunday services because ‘it is important to give thanks’. Easter is her favourite religious feast. (Finally, there’s someone who loves Easter as much as I do.)

Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It has always been celebrated, from the earliest days after Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas celebrations did not come about until much later.

Hot cross buns

Berry went to St Albans Cathedral to find out more about hot cross buns.

The cathedral’s historian explained that, in England, the precursor of this bun was the Alban bun. In 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, made highly spiced buns which the monks gave to the poor who appeared at the refectory door on Good Friday. The historian added that Brother Thomas was likely making peace with the locals who resented the Church. Monasteries at that time held an enormous amount of power.

St Albans Cathedral website tells us that their hot cross buns are still made locally — at Redbournbury Mill, which the abbey once owned. Anyone interested can find them the old fashioned way, by going to the Abbot’s Kitchen. They are available throughout Lent to Easter Monday.

The historian gave an Alban bun to Berry, who said it was much spicier than conventional hot cross buns. There is also no pastry or paste cross on the Alban bun, rather one which is formed with a knife before baking.

Although Berry and the historian did not discuss the significance of the bun’s ingredients, the spices symbolise those used to embalm Jesus after His crucifixion. I cannot find anything about the meaning of the dried fruit in them, but years ago, I read that it represents the gentle character of Jesus. I have also read that the fruit pieces suggest the drops of blood He shed for us.

For centuries, people ate hot cross buns only on Good Friday in contemplation of the Crucifixion. These days, sadly, they are available nearly all year round.

During the Reformation, England’s Protestants — and, later, Puritans — condemned the eating of hot cross buns as Catholic superstition. During Elizabethan times, one could only purchase them in London on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials.

Historians point out that fruit breads with a cross existed in ancient Greece. The cross made it easier to divide the bread into four pieces.

A number of superstitions about hot cross buns abound. As for them not going stale, I can assure you that they must be eaten within 12 to 18 hours. They get hard as a rock after that. And, yes, they also go mouldy.

Mary Berry makes hot cross buns for her family during Lent. The BBC has made her recipe available.

Jamaican bun

Berry spent time with Bettina, who is originally from Jamaica and belongs to a Baptist church in Nottingham.

Bettina makes Jamaican buns for the ladies at her church during Lent. They are actually large cakes, served in thin slices, often with Jamaican cheese. The buns are also very dark, because they have stout in them. This recipe looks like the one Bettina uses.

Escoveitch fish

Bettina also made a standard Good Friday dish of escoveitch (ceviche) fish for Berry to try. After marinating in a ceviche manner, Bettina pan fried the fish, basting it regularly. It looked delicious.

She served it with peppers, chocho and chilis. This recipe is like Bettina’s.

Bettina explained that marinating fish in vinegar dates back to the Moors, who introduced it to Spain. The Spanish, in turn, took the technique with them to the New World.

Russian devilled eggs and pascha

Berry met with a Russian Orthodox home cook and a priest, who explained how their Church observes Lent.

Father Peter explained that church members continue to follow the centuries-old vegetarian Lent, which starts two weeks earlier than the Catholic and Protestant one. They do not consume any food at all on Good Friday. Lenten fasting does not end until the Easter Vigil service ends, which is sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Afterwards, everyone — including children — enjoys a feast.

Holy Thursday, which the Orthodox call ‘Clean Thursday’, is a busy, yet contemplative day, Father Peter said. It is the traditional spring cleaning day and it is also when the Easter cake, pascha, is made. Pascha is the word for Easter.

Pascha is a cheesecake with dried fruit. It is put into a pyramid mould with a Russian Orthodox cross on one side and ‘XB’ (‘Christ is risen’) on the other.

Another Russian Easter favourite is the devilled egg. A home cook made this for Berry. It involves peeled hard boiled eggs which are left to steep in beet juice. The programme did not mention this, but the red juice symbolises Christ’s blood. After several hours, the eggs are cut in half, the yolks devilled and piped back into the egg white centres. Caviar is a favourite topping.


Berry went to meet a Polish family in Cambridgeshire. They explained the importance of getting their Easter food blessed at church on Holy Saturday. I wrote about that in 2010.

In addition to coloured eggs, onto which the children were busy etching designs, olives are also an important Easter food for the Poles, probably because of their egg-like shape. Both symbolise life.

The husband made Berry a babka, the traditional Easter cake, which takes three days to make properly. Most of that time involves the rise of the enriched dough, similar to a brioche. He used a babka mould, similar to a kugelhopf mould, and added a chocolate insert. You could use a bundt cake mould.

Those who do not care for chocolate can add dried fruit instead.

A number of babka recipes exist, however, I have not been able to find the one this man used, which is the traditional one. He used his mother’s and, watching him make it, that’s definitely the original. Beware of ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ babka recipes. If anyone can point to one, please share the recipe or a link by commenting below. Many thanks!

Incidentally, he explained that ‘babka’ is also a complimentary word for a woman and a gracious name for a grandmother.

I’ll watch next week’s show and let you know what else Mary Berry discovers in the world of Easter food traditions.

In the UK, Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday. In 2016, it falls on March 6.

These two posts give the history behind this association between Laetare Sunday, the Church and mothers:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts this week focussed on food: beef, pork, microwaved potatoes as well as gravy and sauce in the hope that some of my British readers will consider cooking for their mothers this Sunday. If they can manage it without too much stress, their mothers would no doubt appreciate that much more than being taken out for lunch or dinner, no matter how elaborate or filling.

What follows are my tips for foolproof crêpes, which make a delightful and convenient dessert. They can be made in advance and reheated before serving.

Foolproof crêpe recipe

I use Delia Smith’s crêpe recipe, which requires no ‘resting’ of the batter. It calls for:

110g (4 oz) of sifted flour

2 eggs

7 oz (207 ml) of milk mixed with 3 oz (89 ml) of water

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp (30g) melted butter (omit the pinch of salt if using salted butter)

This will make six crêpes.

As this recipe does not call for sugar, the crêpes can be used for savoury fillings.

Cooking tips

I use a copper crêpe pan but cheaper alternatives are available. In addition to the crêpe pan, you will need a dinner plate, a soup ladle (large enough to provide a small cup of soup), a long thin metal spatula and several sheets of aluminium foil.

Make sure the pan is hot (medium heat) before pouring in the crêpe batter. Because my pan is so heavy, I begin heating it before I start the batter.

Once you have mixed the first three or four ingredients well, melt the butter in the crêpe pan, tilt the pan so the butter covers the bottom and sides, then pour all of the butter into the batter. Stir well.

Use a soup ladle (large enough to provide a small cup of soup) to spoon the batter into the pan. Fill the ladle almost to the top, leaving 1/2″ (1 cm) empty.

Put the ladle close to the centre of the pan and pour the batter into it. Quickly tilt the pan so the batter reaches the edge and is evenly distributed.

The first crêpe takes the longest, twice as long as the last one. Be patient, increase the heat slightly from medium to medium-high and wait. My first one takes five to six minutes, but that is normally when my kitchen is cold.

Crêpes are ready to be turned over for cooking on the other side when you can slide the spatula under it and the crêpe holds its shape. If the crêpe moves or starts to bunch up, it is not ready to be turned over and will tear.

Once the crêpe is turned over, it should only need a minute or two of cooking time.

Cooked crêpes look golden brown in the middle of one side and often have a mottled appearance on the other. When serving, show the more attractive side.

When the crêpe is cooked, lift the pan and slide the crêpe onto your dinner plate. Cover tightly with a sheet of aluminium foil and ladle the next bit of batter into the pan.

You should not need to add any butter to the pan when cooking the rest of the crêpes. If you do, add just a tiny bit and rotate the pan so it distributes evenly, then add your batter and repeat the rest of these steps, remembering to place a sheet of aluminium foil on top of each crêpe.

Be prepared to turn the heat down if your crêpes are in danger of burning. I start on medium-high and turn the heat back down to medium by the time I make the fourth.

When all your crêpes are made, cover the uppermost tightly with aluminium foil. If you are making these in advance, let them cool thoroughly before refrigerating. Take them out of the refrigerator and let them get up to room temperature before reheating in a 150°C (325°F) oven for 10 – 15 minutes or, having removed the foil, microwave them for one to two minutes. You can fold them up before placing in the microwave to make room for several on a plate.

The first crêpe

Many British cooks, including the professionals, say the first crêpe is never any good.

I disagree. I have only ever thrown out a first crêpe once. Had I been more patient, I could have served that one, too.

Part of the reason for the first crêpe theory is because people leave too much melted butter in the pan. You need just enough to cover the surface and sides, no more than that.

Serving suggestions

Most Britons prefer their crêpes topped simply with sugar and lemon juice.

I prefer my Amaretto sauce and whipped cream.

You can also use a variety of fruit coulis, other sweet sauces, ice cream or sherbet.

A popular trend in France now is to make a layer ‘cake’ of the crêpes, putting Nutella between each layer. The cake is then cut into wedges for serving.

And, of course, let’s not forget the classic Crêpes Suzette for which there is a Jacques Pépin recipe (see steps 3 – 5).

One of my readers, Flyinthesky, has an excellent recipe for gluten-free white sauce made with cornflour.

I have tried it and it works beautifully.

He posted it in a comment in January 2016, and is well worth reproducing here for anyone who has problems with gluten.

Flyinthesky’s gluten-free white sauce

Bring required amount of milk with the desired amount of butter to the boil.

Dissolve, at a guess, two tablespoons of cornflour in a small quantity of water.

Slowly add while stirring the cornflour water mixture into the liquid until the required consistency is achieved. [Note from Churchmouse: when the cornflour is cooked, it will have lost its opacity. At that point, the sauce thickens.]

Apart from the fact this tastes near the same as roux base it has two advantages, it’s gluten free and it’s heat stable.

I use this for pepper, basic cheese, Stilton and all savoury sauces including gravy.

Top tips for gravy: white pepper to taste as well as sugar and milk. When I put sugar and milk (full cream, of course) in gravy I get puzzled looks from guests, but they love the result.


Mr Fly and I had a disagreement about flour-based sauces. He says they return to a watery state if heated for a long period of time. I said that I’d found that true of cornflour-based sauces.

In retrospect, I had problems because I was not adding enough cornflour.

My cornflour box states that the proportion should be 1 tbsp for every quarter litre (8.8 oz.) of liquid.

Besides being gluten-free, other advantages of using cornflour are that it gives gravies and sauces a lighter texture and lends a translucent look.

I’m using cornflour in all my sauces now, thanks to Flyinthesky.

It is surprising that more food sites do not mention the time and money saving tip of using Chef Mike — the microwave — to cook potatoes.

I’ve been doing this for several years. Perhaps you have, too.

Here are five takes on potatoes à la Chef Mike.

Please note that these are instructions for medium-sized potatoes. Larger potatoes will require longer cooking time, but experiment by extending cooking time by one-minute intervals until you have found the perfect length of time.

Parboiling for roasting

Wash the potato(es), then dry with kitchen (paper) towel.

Using a knife, make a shallow slit in the potato so that it does not explode in the microwave.

Cook for 4 minutes.

Remove from microwave and let cool thoroughly before roasting, so that all the steam can evaporate.

Baked potatoes

Wash the potato(es), then dry with kitchen (paper) towel.

Using a knife, make a shallow ‘X’ in the potato so that it does not explode in the microwave. Place the potato ‘X’ side up in the microwave and cook for 5 to 6 minutes.

Alternatively, cook for 4 minutes and finish in the oven at 170°C (or 325°F) for 15 minutes.

The only downside with cooking the potato completely in the microwave is that the bottom can get a bit hard, which is unappetising.

Mashed potatoes

Follow the first two paragraphs of instructions for baked potatoes above, cooking for 6 minutes.

Let the potato(es) cool enough so you can peel it then break or cut it up in a wide-bottomed bowl. Add salt, pepper and enough butter (and/or milk) to mash with a fork. A fork works really well as a potato masher. It gets rid of all the lumps quickly.

Warm the potato up in the microwave for one or two minutes. Stir the mash again and serve.

Twice-baked potatoes

Clean and dry the potat(oes) as stated above.

Carefully cut a flap around the top of the spud but leave the flap on for cooking.

Microwave for 6 minutes.

Remove and let cool. Remove the flap and discard.

Carefully scoop out most of the potato, but leave enough in the bottom and around the edges to stabilise it.

Mash the scooped out portion in a bowl using butter or — my favourite for this recipe — mayonnaise. Season well and add herbs or Old Bay to the mix. Mash away any lumps. Some people like to add grated cheese and cooked bacon lardons.

Spoon the mash back into the potato and bake at 170°C (or 325°F) for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sliced potatoes

The French cooking site I visit, which is part of, has a recipe for sliced potatoes. My translation follows.

Wash and peel the potato(es). Finely slice it.

Arrange in a shallow dish, drizzle a little oil over the potatoes, season with salt and pepper then cover with cling film (plastic wrap). Make a few holes in the cling film. Alternatively, one can use a microwave cooking bag.

Microwave for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and test with a fork or knife. If the potato slices yield easily, they are done.

If not, microwave for another minute and check again. It is better to microwave by the minute and recheck rather than wrongly overestimate cooking time.

You can top the potatoes with chopped parsley or chives and, if you like, a warm cream or cheese sauce before serving.

Following on from yesterday’s post on cuts of beef, today’s looks at cuts of pork.

It occurred to me that one response to these diagrams might well be, ‘So what?’ The dominance of supermarkets and closure of so many butcher shops over the past 30 to 40 years means that we are given a certain number of packaged cuts and that’s it. It’s a no-brainer.

However, the pig is an animal that can be eaten from head to tail. Knowing about the different cuts and their cooking methods will give you more confidence to ask for new cuts if you have a butcher or an ethnic market nearby.

What follows are links to diagrams and cuts for three different countries: Britain, the United States and France.


It seems to me that the British use more of the pig around the shoulder than the Americans do (see US diagram below).

P J and J Moore Butchers have a good diagram (scroll to the bottom of the page). One of my favourite cuts of meat is the collar, which, when boiled, gives an unctuous ham result. The British would call collar a bacon joint, but it tastes just like the boiled ham my grandmother used to prepare many years ago. The collar stock is worth keeping because it turns into aspic. Absolutely lovely. Any Americans living in Britain would enjoy it. And it’s very inexpensive. It should come with a good rim of fat. Cook it with the fat (to get the aspic) and trim it after cooking. also has an excellent diagram with good descriptions and recipe ideas. The Ginger Pig has outstanding descriptions of pork cuts and cooking instructions.

Cook’s Info has a very good page with alternative names for parts of the pig that will be useful when visiting the butcher. I say that, because when I last went to buy ham hocks, ours asked me if I wanted the foreleg or the hindleg. ‘Uhhh,’ was my uneducated response! I walked out with two of both, although the hindleg definitely has more meat as you can see in the diagram. I would have taken more hindleg, but the Chinese families had already bought them. Our butcher said, ‘You have to get here early on Thursdays for hocks.’ Duly noted.

Speaking of butchers, if you want a professional perspective on all things pork, Pork for Butchers has what looks like a basic diagram until you click on one of the pork sections and drill down into the various cuts. You’ll then see a complete description of how they cut that piece of meat for the customer.

United States

The National Pork Board, which markets The Other White Meat® brand, has a helpful diagram. Run your cursor over the pictures to see what part of the pig the meat comes from and a brief description of the cut. Click on the picture and you will be transferred to a new page with more information on that cut of meat.

I shall now illustrate the importance of diagrams. My mother used to make the best country-style ribs. The British don’t have that type of cut. A butcher will have to prepare that for you. A couple of years ago, I was desperate for country-style ribs because they are so tender and meaty. I hadn’t seen these diagrams at that point and hadn’t a clue as to where the meat came from. I found a photo of what I wanted on a meat forum and took it into our butcher. He said, ‘These come from the loin, near the shoulder. The usual ribs come from the side.’ The side is the area around the belly.

Country-style ribs are really inexpensive and filling. I would highly recommend them to my British readers who have access to a butcher. If I remember rightly, six thick ribs cost £10 in 2014. I gave them a spicy rub, sliced an onion and put both into a Le Creuset pot with a lid, baking them for an hour at 170° C. I took them out, drained the fat and poured barbecue sauce over them, returning them to the oven — uncovered — for another 30 – 40 minutes at 160° C. Absolutely lovely and melt-in-the-mouth tender.

Clove Garden has an excellent page on every pork cut you can imagine, complete with photos and helpful descriptions. The text for country-style ribs says:

These are made from the rib section at the shoulder end of the whole loin. The spine is removed but leaving the feather bones above and the ribs below. The meaty part above the ribs is cut leaving half with the ribs and half with the feather bones. The two sections sliced crosswise about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick and packed together. It is a meaty and economical cut for the budget conscious.  

It should be noted that Modern Farmer‘s Pork 101 says differently:

“Basically, it’s from the brisket area of the pig, if pigs had brisket — it’s basically a bone-in brisket,” says [Tom] Mylan [a butcher]. “You get the front part of the spareribs with a lot of meat.” The country-style spareribs contain a combination of dark and light meat.

Interesting. I think I would stick with the shoulder meat.

The Clove Garden page is extremely useful if one wants to step out of one’s comfort zone. It discusses where one can buy these cuts in Southern California.

One useful item for ballotines of pork loin is caul, a lacy, thin, fatty membrane. The British and French often wrap pork loin or rabbit ballotines in caul. The caul not only leaves the meat intact but also adds necessary fat to keep it moist. Clove Garden says:

It is held highly desirable for a number of European recipes as a wrapper that will automatically baste what it is wrapped around. The photo specimen, laid out, not stretched, on a 12 x 18 inch cutting board, weighed 4-3/8 ounces. It was purchased from the freezer cases of a large Asian market in Los Angeles.

I remember the days when pigs’ feet (trotters), either fresh or pickled, were available in virtually every US supermarket. They began disappearing in the 1980s. A good chef can cook them, remove the bone, stuff them with a pork or rabbit farce, braise them and serve with an unctuous sauce. I had them in London 15 years ago — one of my most memorable dinners ever. My American readers might appreciate this British recipe for stuffed trotters, which I’ll have to try. You can substitute other stuffings for the black pudding and chestnut.

Pigs’ trotters are difficult to work with, so I normally just boil them for a delicious aspic-like stock. I highly recommend them. They are also very reasonably priced. Our butcher gave them to me free once.


As with beef, the French also have different cuts of pork.

Clove Garden has an excellent page with four illustrations — North America, British, English and French — of pork cuts. This requires a lot of study and one will learn a lot.

Le Porc, which represents French pork producers, makes understanding French cuts easier, because whilst there are no translations, you can see photographs of what the end products look like when you click on a section.

Pork roasts in France look very different to British ones. They are neat, tidy, small and round — without crackling. They have just enough fat on them to keep the meat moist in the oven. This is very disappointing for the average Briton. What fun is a joint of pork without a thick rim of fat for crackling? That’s the best part!

The perfect crackling – recipe

It seems the only place one can get decent crackling is in Britain, and, even then, you won’t get it from most supermarket joints. Industrialised processing methods don’t produce pigs with enough fat.

If you want perfect crackling, you really need to specially order your pork joint from a butcher or buy it from an independent free range producer. Ideally, the rim of fat should be an inch thick. We ask our butcher to order ours from Orchard Farm Pork.

I use the Gary Rhodes method which he explained in his television show for the BBC back in the 1990s.

1/ Carefully cut off the crackling fat from the roasting joint, leaving just a thin rim of fat for the joint.

2/ Put the joint in a roasting pan and put the crackling fat in a separate, smaller roasting pan with sides.

3/ Sprinkle the crackling with a lot of salt on both sides, ensuring that it gets in between the cuts on the skin side. Rub the salt in so that it penetrates the fat whilst cooking.

4/ Put the crackling in five to 10 minutes before the roast, as it will need extra time to render and become crispy.

5/ Have an old teacup on hand when you drain rendered fat off the crackling. You will probably need to do this two or three times. A teacup is better than a bowl because it has a handle. Reserve some of the fat for roast potatoes to accompany your roast. Leave the rest of fat to cool. You can put it in a container later, preferably with a lid, and refrigerate for future use.

6/ Check the crackling when you take the roast out to rest. It might need more time. If so, leave it in the oven with the heat on at roasting temperature.

7/ Remove the crackling before you carve the meat. It will need time to cool. Make sure it is set aside from humid parts of the kitchen.

8/ High-quality crackling generally needs prodding with a knife to split into strips. If that does not work, use sturdy kitchen scissors with curved edges to cut it into pieces.

9/ When serving, place crackling portions away from gravy so that they do not get soggy.

10/ To reheat any leftover crackling, place the strips or pieces uncovered on a piece of aluminium foil or baking tray. Make sure either has sides (fold up foil to create edges) to collect any excess fat. Warm up in an oven heated to 150° C for 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool for five minutes before serving. galette des rois — king cake — is eaten during the fortnight following Epiphany services.

This means there is still another week to enjoy this beautiful fusion of puff pastry and frangipane.

(Photo credit: Lookmag)

French pastry shops will sell millions of these delights before the middle of January.

Many people will also make these at home. I have done so in the past, and nothing could be easier.

Galette des Rois — King Cake

(prep time: 20 minutes, baking time: 35 minutes, serves 6 to 8)


1 roll of puff pastry

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) ground almonds

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) sugar

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) butter, cut in cubes

1 tsp of dark rum or 1 capful of almond flavouring

1 egg (for frangipane)

1 egg yolk (for glaze)

One M&M or, traditionally, small plastic token and party crown

1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar (optional, see step 12)


1/ Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

2/ Combine almonds, sugar, rum/almond flavouring and butter in a bowl to stir or mix by hand. Alternatively, blitz these ingredients in a food processor until well mixed.

3/ Add the egg. If you are doing this by hand, make a well in the middle first, then mix thoroughly until you have a smooth paste. If using a food processor, blitz until the mixture comes together.

4/ Roll out the puff pastry. Cut out two circles: one for each layer.

5/ Lightly grease a baking tray and dust with flour. Alternatively, use a non-stick mat (Teflon or Silpat brands) on an ungreased baking tray.

6/ Place the bottom layer on your mat or tray. Spread the frangipane on it but keep the edge of this layer clear to allow the top layer of pastry to stick and eliminate weeping of the filling.

7/ Place the M&M or plastic token — e.g. a bean or tiny Magi figure — somewhere in the frangipane. I have recommended an M&M only because it has a hard coating. I do not know how this will work; it is possible that slice might have a bit of stain in it if the colour from the coating gets too hot.

8/ Using a pastry brush or clean fingertip, dampen the edge of the pastry with water.

9/ Carefully place the top circle of pastry on top of the open tart and press the edge closest to the middle closed. The very outside edge should be able to puff up in the oven.

10/ Beat an egg yolk with a few drops of water until liquid. Brush this on top of the galette.

11/ Make a design using a dull knife or small metal spatula. These Galette des Rois recipes from Le Journal des Femmes have a variety of designs.

12/ Place in the oven to bake for 35 minutes. By then, the galette should be golden brown. Alternatively, take the galette out of the oven after 25 minutes, dust with 1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. The crust will be even shinier with a slight crunch.

13/ Allow the galette to cool thoroughly. Transfer to a plate using a non-stick spatula if you have used a mat.

14/ Share it with your family and friends. The person who gets the slice with the plastic token is King for a Day and can do whatever he pleases (ancient Roman custom). An old French custom involves reserving one slice for a poor person should s/he stop by whilst you are eating the cake.

Although Christmas has come and gone for another year, perhaps home cooks have made notes for next year’s festive lunch or dinner.

I certainly have. For the first time, our household had a hassle-free Christmas Day dinner.

Here’s how we did it.

Vegetables and Chef Mike

We cooked most of our vegetables — sprouts and carrots — on Christmas Eve.

This meant that we reduced Christmas Day washing up by a third. Those pots and pans were out of the way. Reheating involved employing Chef Mike — the microwave. Others might prefer using the oven.

On Christmas Day, the only things I needed to do were to prepare parsnips and potatoes for roasting.

Roast potatoes and parsnips

As a parboiling substitute for the potatoes, I put Chef Mike to work.

After washing and drying two or three medium-sized potatoes, cut lengthwise down each potato — 1/4″ or 1/2 cm deep — to allow steam to escape in the microwave. Microwave them for five minutes then let them cool thoroughly on a chopping board before peeling.

Put a tablespoon of goose fat in a small roasting tin and let that heat for five minutes at 180°C (350°F). By this time, the roast goose should be out of the oven and resting on the carving tray.

Whilst the fat is heating, peel the potatoes. To get rough edges that crisp in the oven, break each potato in half rather than cut it.

I also had another small roasting tin with 1 tablespoon of goose fat heating at the same time for the parsnips, which I peeled shortly beforehand to prevent them from going brown.

Large parsnips can be cut lengthwise into quarters. Smaller ones can be left whole, but cut the thin ends off, because these can overcook and burn.

Potatoes and parsnips take the same amount of time to roast — approximately 20 minutes.

Easy-to-carve goose

This year, I did two things which made the goose easy to carve.

Before I put it in brine — see ‘Roast goose — reduce cooking time with brine‘ — I broke the legs and removed the wings.

Breaking the legs properly will leave them on the carcass, skin intact.

To remove the wings, I used sturdy kitchen scissors. This took five minutes per wing. When cutting through the skin, I left a flap approximately 2″ or 5 cm long that I placed over the gap where the wing was. I secured this to the carcass with a sturdy poultry lacer pin. (When it came time to roast, this worked amazingly well with no loss of meat juice.)

I then poured boiling water over the goose, dried the bird and put it in brine. Afterwards, I dried the goose and let it sit on a rack in the roasting tin overnight. Our kitchen is cool at this time of year, so I left the bird on the counter top.

Using the brine method reduced cooking time by half, once again.

Removing the wings and breaking the legs made carving very easy.

Goose wings = great stock

After removing the goose wings, I put them in the stock pot to caramelise in a tablespoon of goose fat along with the neck and the giblets.

Sear everything, add just enough water to cover, then bring them to the boil. Season the liquid with salt and pepper then simmer it for two to three hours.

I left the stock, with the wings and giblets in it, to cool overnight. This made an excellent base for Christmas Day gravy.

The same method can be used with turkey, another unwieldy bird!

Churchmouse Altarmousefinal copyThis stuffed squid recipe is perfect for those on low carb high fat (LCHF) eating plans.

It goes very well with my prawn truffle sauce spooned on top.

My better half told me this was a ‘restaurant quality’ dinner. I hope you have a similar experience.

British readers can buy one of the seasonings, Old Bay, here.


1/ Ask your fishmonger to prep the squid for you.

2/ Make half a recipe of prawn truffle sauce and reserve the rest of the stock as well as any squid juice (not ink) for poaching the squid.

3/ You can have two squid courses. Start with the tentacles and any flat pieces then serve the stuffed squid as a main course.

4/ If you want to serve the tentacles and odd pieces pan-fried, dunk everything in beaten egg white (or coat thinly with mayonnaise) then dredge in a few teaspoons of well seasoned flour. Let the squid pieces sit in the dredge for 45 minutes to 1 hour so that the coating sticks. In a small frying pan (slightly larger than an omelette pan), heat 2 – 3 tbsp of duck, goose or pork fat until hot (the fat should be bubbly on the bottom). Carefully place the squid pieces in the pan, working away from yourself to avoid grease splashes. Make sure there is adequate space between the pieces so that they fry evenly. Turn them over after 2 or 3 minutes to fry on the other side. Drain well and serve.

Churchmouse’s stuffed squid

(prep time: 15-20 minutes; cooking time: 10 minutes; serves 4)


4 squid for stuffing

1/2 a recipe of prawn truffle sauce

1/2 pint (0.25 l) of prawn stock and any squid juices (not ink)

2 red bell peppers, finely diced

8 spring onions (scallions), finely sliced

1 tsp garlic paste or 1 clove crushed garlic

2 level tbsp flour

2 level tbsp butter

Salt, cayenne and Old Bay to season

1 – 2 tbsp double (heavy) cream

2 – 3 tsp baked panko-style breadcrumbs (optional, but they add crunch)

8 toothpicks


1/ In a small omelette pan, cook the butter and flour over medium heat. Stir it so it becomes a roux.

2/ Add the spring onion pieces to the roux. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

3/ Add the garlic and diced red pepper to the onion roux. Stir well and cook for 4 – 5 minutes until al dente.

4/ Season the vegetable mix with salt, cayenne and Old Bay to taste and stir well. Add the cream and stir again. If the mix is too solid, add a teaspoon or two of the seafood stock and stir.

5/ Remove the vegetable mix from the heat and let cool for 15 – 20 minutes.

6/ Once the vegetable mix has reached room temperature, take a dessert spoon (larger than a teaspoon but smaller than a tablespoon), open the squid and carefully spoon in the mix. Using clean fingers, gently press the mix as far down the squid as possible.

7/ Take care not to tear the squid pockets when filling them. Also, do not overstuff, just ensure there is a decent amount from top to bottom so they are slightly rounded. Secure each squid at the top with two toothpicks. Set each aside on a plate or cutting board.

8/ Start heating the prawn truffle sauce in a separate saucepan.

9/ Put the prawn stock and any squid juice in a large, frying pan preheated over medium heat. Carefully place the squid in the pan. The liquid level should reach halfway up the squid.

10/ Poach the squid for 4 – 5 minutes on each side. Carefully turn the squid over with a large serving spoon to cook the other side.  In both cases, check after three minutes to make sure the squid have not split. (My first few squid split when I started stuffing them several years ago, but I keep a closer eye on them now and they are perfect.) In case of any splits, turn down the heat, either turn over to cook or quickly remove to a plate, split side up. A small split sometimes closes by itself.

11/ During the last few minutes of cooking the squid, make any seasoning adjustments to the prawn truffle sauce, if necessary.

12/ Carefully lift the squid out of the pan, allowing any excess liquid to drip off. Place the squid on the plates — one per person — and remove the toothpicks. Spoon the sauce over the squid. Top each one with a teaspoonful of warm, baked breadcrumbs for a bit of crunch.

13/ Long green beans drenched in garlic butter make an elegant accompaniment served on the other side of the plate.

(Graphics credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod)

Churchmouse Altarmousefinal copyThis sauce is a great accompaniment to sautéed scallops, red snapper and stuffed squid (recipe appearing October 2, 2015).

I devised this last weekend and received several compliments.

You can buy truffle paste online here and here in the US and here in the UK. An 80g jar will last for three or four weeks provided you refrigerate it after opening. A little goes a long way. The only things it doesn’t go well with are pork and lamb.

British readers can buy one of the seasonings, Old Bay, here.


1/ For best results, start the stock several hours ahead of time for a more intense flavour.

2/ Start the sauce with 2 tbsp each of flour and butter. If you need the 3rd tbsp, mix or rub the two together well to make a beurre manié which can be incorporated into the sauce without making it lumpy.

Churchmouse’s seafood truffle sauce

(prep time: 15 minutes; serves 6 to 8)


Stock —

Shells and heads of six jumbo prawns (7″ — 18 cm — in length, head to tail); raw prawns are preferable

Water to cover


Sauce —

1 pint (approx. 1/2 l) stock

2 – 3 level tbsp flour

2 – 3 level tbsp butter

3 – 4 level tsp truffle paste

1 tsp garlic paste or 1 clove crushed garlic

Salt, cayenne pepper and Old Bay to season


1/ Remove the shells and heads from the prawns. Place everything in a saucepan that can hold  1 1/2 – 2 pints (.70 l to 1 l).

2/ Fill saucepan with water to just cover the shells and heads.

3/ Cook over medium to medium-high heat until liquid is reduced by 1″ (3 cm). This takes around 45 minutes.

4/ Salt the stock well. It should be flavoursome enough to enjoy on its own.

5/ Turn the heat off and let the stock sit for five hours. Leave the shells and heads in the pot.

6/ After five hours, strain the stock into a measuring jug. You should have nearly a pint (approx. 1/2 l) of liquid. Discard the shells and heads.

7/ Place 2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp flour in the saucepan to make a roux. Stir and mix over medium heat until the flour is cooked. The roux will be slightly brown and bubbly when it’s done.

8/ Season the roux with garlic, salt, cayenne and Old Bay and stir well.

9/ Slowly, add the stock little by little. Stir continuously until the sauce is smooth.

10/ Leave the sauce to thicken, stirring occasionally so that it does not stick to the bottom. This takes approximately 5 minutes. The sauce should not be too thick nor should it be too runny; it should have body and look like something you would find in a restaurant. If it is too thin, add the 3rd tbsp of butter and flour in the form of beurre manié (see Note 2 above). Stir well and let the sauce cook for a few minutes more.

11/ When the sauce is ready you can take it off the heat and cover it to warm up later. Alternatively, turn the heat down very low and add the truffle paste by the teaspoon, stirring well after each addition. Start with 3 tsp and taste. The sauce should not have an overpowering truffle taste but one that is half truffle, half prawn. If you need more, add the 4th tsp of truffle paste.

12/ Depending on what you are serving, spoon the sauce onto the plate or over the fish or seafood. For scallops and red snapper, I spoon the sauce on the plate then place the protein on top. When I’m serving stuffed squid, I pour the sauce over it for more colour.

13/ Any leftover sauce can be stored in a container (with lid) and refrigerated. Let it warm up to room temperature before reheating. After reheating, taste it before deciding to add another tsp of truffle paste.

(Graphics credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod)

Yesterday I discussed a French cookery show, Dans la peau d’un chef (France2), presented by Christophe Michalak, head pastry chef at Paris’s Hôtel Plaza-Athénée.

That post gave easy suggestions for achieving the French touch on a raspberry tart.

Today’s entry gives Michalak’s tips for piping two colours of crème Chantilly — thick, sweetened whipped cream — on desserts.

Michalak uses a mix of 400g double (heavy) cream, 80g of marscapone, 40g of sweetened condensed milk along with a dash of orange flavouring and vanilla. This thickness creates the perfect consistency for professional piping.

I think I would replace the sweetened condensed milk with an equivalent of icing (powdered) sugar, because I would have to use the remainder of the condensed milk in another dessert right away.

He then divided the whipped cream into two bowls so that he could colour one pink.

You will need disposable piping bags for this recipe.

Michalak used two piping bags which he then put into a slightly larger one for piping. The white cream goes into one of the smaller bags and the pink cream goes into another. Flatten both bags and cut the ends before slipping them one on top of the other into a larger piping bag. Cut the end of the larger piping bag.

Taking the bag into one’s hand, press down to make it balloon-shaped, then start piping the top of the dessert. You might wish to do a short test run on a plate to ensure the colours come out the way they should. Start at the side, work towards the top in a circular manner, and two colours of cream will appear, neatly and separately. It’s absolutely stunning — and, with a bit of practice, not that complicated.

The French touch — demystified and doable!

This video (16:42 minutes long) shows Michalak making Tulipe à la fraise — Strawberry Tulip — which has a fine moulded crust, topped with gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut paste) melted with Rice Krispies, a small amount of cubed strawberries in jam, a scoop of strawberry sherbet and the piped whipped cream. A small slice of strawberry and tiny mint leaf go on top in the centre.

The whipped cream part begins around the 12-minute mark:

Other tips:

1/ The crust — called cigarette pastry — is simple to make: 100g (three or four) beaten egg whites, 100 g icing sugar, 100g of softened butter and 100g of flour with a pinch of salt added. This same pastry is used to make rolled tuiles, similar to cigarettes, as well as the flat rounded-edged langues de chat (cats’ tongues).

2/ When the cigarette pastry has finished baking in rounds on a Silpat or other non-stick silicone sheet, remove them immediately to mould over the tapered bottom of a drinking glass or small bowl. Leave to rest for a few minutes.

3/ When using cigarette pastry for a tart, Michalak puts a small amount of the gianduja-Rice Krispies mix on top of the base of the crust before adding anything creamy. This is so the base remains crisp. You could also use a few biscuit crumbs to achieve the same effect.

If anyone would like me to translate the Tulipe à la fraise recipe, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below or on any of my other posts.

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