In print Saturday 27th October 2018
October feels like we’re still holding on to summer even though we know it’s long gone. The prospects of the school holidays always helps. A week off work, and if you’re lucky enough to get away, can feel like summer all over again. The longer nights are harder but the excitement around the 31st October is by far the highlight of the month in the Contini household. My girls are 12 and 14 but they still love dressing up, baking and decorating the house with all things ghoulish for Halloween.
When I was little I was happy with a plastic witch’s hat and a black plastic bin bag (so un-environmentally friendly now that I look back) but my children love really scary stuff. I’m scared just at the thought of seeing them scar-faced and clothed in rags. The parties now revolve around horror films rather than trick or treating. I’ve never plucked up the courage to see one of these horror films, never mind sitting through a trilogy back to back. Less damage to the planet for sure but sleepless nights for definite.
While they are screaming, I’ll be cleaning up the mess from the essential Halloween baking. It has to be mince and potatoes with dumplings, homemade sausage rolls and any combination of marshmallow with chocolate as possible.
I’m pleased to say the low sugar message has got through to my children and their friends. They do eat fewer sweets now than I gave them when they were children. And my expert bribery for good behavior when they were little doesn’t seem to work anymore. The sugar diabetes message is strong and the sugar will make you fat message is stronger, so body image and peer awareness is a driving force for this shift of behavior.
Other vices haven’t raised their head yet but I’m sure they will at some stage. Drugs, alcohol and smoking are all around us. Neither my husband Victor or I participated in two of the latter and the alcohol was never overdosed so I’m not sure how our children will respond. I’m delighted they are less scared of the scary movies and hopefully more scared of the vices. That is a better call for sure and I hope it stays like that.
Halloween mince with thyme dough balls
SERVES 4 hungry guisers
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
800g best beef mince
salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 heaped tbsp HP brown sauce
1 litre boiling water
2 carrots, cut into small cubes
2 parsnips, cut into small cubes
1 small turnip (preferably white) cut into small cubes
For the dough balls:
100g self-raising flour
1 sprig of thyme, dried in a moderate oven for 5 minutes
generous pinch of salt
25g unsalted butter, chilled
25g suet (preferably Atora)
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy based casserole dish. When it is hot, add the onion and fry until soft and golden. Increase the heat and add the mince. Cook until browned, stirring regularly to stop it sticking. Season with salt, pepper and HP brown sauce.
Add the boiling water and stir to release all the lovely caramelised bits that are stuck to the casserole dish. Add the carrots, parsnips and turnip, then cover with a lid and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for 1½-2 hours until the mince is tender and the vegetables are soft. Alternatively, you can simmer over a low heat for about 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the dough balls. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl. Crumble in the dried thyme leaves and add the salt. Coarsely grate the butter on top and add the suet.
Rub all the ingredients together with your fingertips until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to bind until the mixture forms a dough. It should be the texture of a soft scone mixture.
Divide the mixture in half, then in half again and in half again to make 8 little dough balls. Roll in the palm of your hand to form even balls.
Carefully remove the lid from the casserole dish. Stir the mince and adjust the seasoning. Gently place the dough balls evenly on top of the mince, leaving enough space between each to allow them to swell up. Replace the lid and cook over a low heat for 15-20 minutes until the dough balls are lovely, light and fluffy.
Homemade sausage rolls
1 packet pre-rolled puff pastry
For the filling:
400g lean minced pork
100g streaky bacon, very finely chopped
Salt to taste
Grated zest of a lemon
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
1 tsp fresh sage, very finely chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme, very finely
1 egg mixed with a little milk
Thoroughly mix all of the filling and set aside.
You will need two flat baking sheets covered with grease proof and preheat the oven Gas mark 6/200°C/400°F.
Roll out the pastry.
Form the filling into a sausage shape, about the thickness of a ten pence piece and lay on top of the pastry. You’ll need enough pastry to roll the filling over and seal with the egg wash. Score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife.
Cut into 2 / 3 cm slices and lay on the tray. Continue until all filled and cut. Leave in the fridge for about 1 hour to set the pastry. When ready, brush with the egg wash and bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until golden.
2 free range eggs (weighed)
Same weight of caster sugar, soft unsalted butter, self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tablespoon of milk
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, slowly incorporate the floor and egg and finally add the baking powder and milk.
Transfer into 12 cupcake papers set in a muffin tray.
Bake at Gas 4/180°C/350° for about 15 – 20 minutes until golden. Allow to cool.
12 Marshmallows decorated with chocolate dots for eyes
300g icing sugar
100g soft unsalted butter
50g cocoa powder
Beat all the ingredients in an electric mixer for about 10 minutes until glossy.
Generously cover the cooled cupcakes with the chocolate icing. Place one white marshmallow on top of the icing and decorate with chocolate eyes.