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Nigella's mince pies
dark chocolate ricotta cheesecake

So we hosted a big party a few days before Christmas. We called it a pagan Christmas party since we are not religious and it was Winter Solstice and all. It was a fun party. But I was sick. Really sick. I should have been in bed, not drinking mulled wine and champagne and coughing into the crook of my elbow and ultimately staying up till 2:30AM. A week and a half later and I am still getting over it. But the real nail in my coffin was that despite my hacking cough and shivers and congested brain, my oven utterly betrayed me and broke on Christmas Eve. And stayed broken on Christmas Day. It’s still broken! Well, my husband valiantly took an afternoon and fixed it so that we could get it ON. Yes there was still the small problem of not being able to turn it OFF. Or adjust the temperature down from raging inferno. We had to unplug it. Kind of scary. You do have to laugh. And on that note, here are the two greatest disasters of my holiday cooking travesty!

First. Nigella’s mince pies. These are actually delicious and the disaster was in no way her fault or that of her lovely recipe. I love Nigella. She’s so campy and funny and every one of her recipes that I have cooked works.

This recipe is so easy. As you can see from the pics, mince pie filling is no big deal. Dried fruit, apples, orange zest, port wine, sugar, brandy or rum. That’s about it. I chose not to make the pie crust myself since I’m terrible at pie crust. And I was making these for a party of 40 guests (insanity!) so I didn’t have THAT much time. Store bought crust it is. Here is Nigella Lawson’s cranberry mince pie recipe for anyone who would like to try it. I like them bite size with brandy butter. Yes, that would be softened butter whipped with brandy and sugar, which you slather on these babies. Yummmmy. Nothing like an English Christmas.

I made the mince pie filling which was delicious and set it aside to cool. Don’t skip the port wine by the way. There is no substitute. Then I dutifully cut out little pie circles and little mince pie covers and placed them in my mini tart baking tray; each little tartlett mold I had brushed with butter. This was before the great oven betrayal of Christmas Eve 2013 mind. I still trusted my old oven at that time. But then I burnt the crap out of the mince pies. All 18 of them. Because I was talking on the phone to my sister. They were completely, totally, irrevocably destroyed. My kitchen was filled with ugly black smoke. I can’t remember what happened to the next batch. It’s possible I burnt them too. Or my husband ate them. In any case there weren’t enough to put on the table for a party. So endeth holiday disaster number one.

cranberry mince pie filling
cranberry mince pie fillingcranberry mince pie filling

Holiday disaster number two.

There are no pictures of our ‘Oops at the last minute there is no oven’ Christmas dinner. I was too annoyed to take any photos of my mother’s mashed potatoes, my brussel sprouts or my mushroom and white wine gravy. Yes. I am not joking. That was our Christmas dinner. Mashed potatoes, gravy and brussel sprouts! I did have quite a bit of cheese and several glasses of wine for my dinner. There was no dessert.

But after Christmas and with the oven able to turn on, quickly rise in temperature to 500 degrees and never waver unless you unplugged it, I decided to face the music, get creative and get cooking again. I was inspired by all this dark chocolate lying around the house. Santa had deposited many bars of expensive, organic, extremely extra dark chocolate into stockings which no one could eat because it tasted like old dirt. And here I was with my incredibly hot oven that tried to burn your face off when you opened the door. So what could I do but make a delicate dark chocolate and ricotta cheesecake? Doesn’t the picture in my Delia Smith cooking book look good? MMMMM. Nothing an evil oven with temperatures enhanced by Satan couldn’t handle. And this story wouldn’t be complete without my sharing the fact that I did not even read the recipe before I started. Why ruin the surprise ending?!

dark chocolate and ricotta

Here’s what the recipe called for that I did not have:

1. creme fraiche
2. 7 oz of dark chocolate
3. gelatin
4. chocolate amaretti biscuits
5. nuts
6. bravery

Here’s what I chose as replacements:

1. cream cheese
2. about 4 or 5 oz of dark chocolate
3. more cream cheese
4. graham crackers
5. nothing
6. a mixture of bravado and second guessing myself

I didn’t realize till the end of this recipe that this was for an uncooked cheesecake that sets in the fridge. It was when I read the starred footnote which said, “This recipe contains raw eggs”. I’m sure it would have tasted delicious but I was not brave enough to serve two raw eggs to my family. Especially when I got the eggs from Trader Joes rather than from some amazing local organic farmer. So I chickened out. Decided to bake a cheesecake that wasn’t supposed to be baked. In my broken oven. My mother and my husband both tried it and advised me to throw it away. It cannot be emphasized enough that we do not throw food away in my house. So. It really was a disaster if things, if this cheesecake, had come to this: death to the terrible cheesecake.

Why am I sharing these tales of failure? Well, I believe that we all make these mistakes. Even the professionals out there. Am I wrong? Is it really just me? It’s part of cooking. Just in the same way I think it’s easier in life to cook with non-exotic ingredients that most of us have already in our kitchen, I like to acknowledge once in a while that these disasters happen. We try out new recipes and they don’t work. Or we make silly mistakes. Or we make truly terrible mistakes. See above!

“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.” — Carlos Castaneda

Happy New Year everyone!