“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…”

Imagine you are invited to a Christmas gathering on the day after Christmas and you have signed up to bring an appetizer.  You make three small homemade buttermilk cheeses, and  both a balsamic-fig jam and a pickled raisin condiment to go with the cheese.  You plan the preparation of all these foods down to the minute because none of these keep; party day will be the ideal day to serve and eat.  And then a predicted blizzard causes everyone to reschedule plans for a later date.

What would you do, now that you have a house full of unexpected leftovers?  Besides cry, of course.

Because crying is never an option.  Neither is throwing things away – what a waste!  Take two minutes and no longer to feel sorry for yourself and then regroup.  Use the old imagination and turn the buttermilk cheeses and the condiments into food for the family, or into some baked good that you might freeze and bring to the rescheduled event.

Sarah Kelly’s Buttermilk Cheese (adapted from the Lee Brothers cookbook) was a cinch to make, and yielded a creamy, tangy, clean-tasting fresh cheese that was similar to ricotta in taste and texture.

For the party I made three full recipes, or one pound of cheese, total.  To these three, I added another pound of good-quality fresh ricotta, along with three beaten eggs, approximately 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and turned it into a ricotta filling for an old-fashioned, red sauce (with Italian sausage) lasagna that is now in the freezer, waiting its turn in the oven at the end of the week.

You could also use this cheese in a ricotta-style cheesecake, sweet or savory.  I’ll bet you may even find a use that I haven’t thought of, so please add a comment if you do.

Both the pickled raisins and the balsamic-fig jam sauce individually reminded me of traditional mincemeat.  Honey-like with a complex vinegar pucker on the finish, these are two types of stewed fruits that can satisfy alone or by rounding out a course.  Still, a little goes a long way, and when the buttermilk cheese appetizer had to be scrapped, I was left with an abundance of both.

First, I spooned a few pickled raisins on a cheese plate, together with a soft and mildly salty Robiola and a dry and aged Mimolette.

A good use, but not one that would take care of the entire jar of raisins.  I had many, many left.  I was also left with wondering: What to do with the figs?

The only answer?  Combine.

I stirred together equal parts of raisins and fig sauce to come up with a close-enough mincemeat filling for traditional British mince pies.  I made the mini pies two ways – as tartlets and as turnovers – to see if I favored one preparation over the other. I didn’t.  I like both.  The pastry was buttery, flaky, tender, and only slightly sweet.  A perfect foil for the half sweet, half sour fruit filling.

You’ll find one raisin recipe by following the link above.  Below you’ll find another.  Either one will make a fine mincemeat-style filling on its own.

If you want to try and round the raisins out with figs for a filling with more complex sweet-sour flavor, combine 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar with 1/2 cup orange juice in a medium saute pan set over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil and then continue to simmer, reducing the liquid by two-thirds, until you have about 1/3 cup of sweet and sour syrup.  Combine this syrup with 1/2 cup of fig jam.  Combine the jam with the full recipe of raisins, and bake as a filling for short crust pastry recipe also follows).  Combined, this will fill 30 turnovers, 24 tartlets, or one double-crust, 8-inch pie.

Pickled Raisins, A Second Way

  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Orange Muscat Champagne vinegar (plain Champagne vinegar is a fine substitute)
  • 1 dried red chile, stemmed and crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2/3 cups golden raisins
  • 2/3 cup dried currants
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small saucepan, toast the mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until the seeds just start to pop. Add the remaining ingredients to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by half. Let the raisins cool completely, the transfer to a glass jar to store. Drain before serving.

The raisins can be refrigerated in the pickling liquid for 3 days.

Sweet Short Crust Pastry

(30 turnovers; 24 tartlets; or enough pastry for a 2-crust, 8-inch pie)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks butter, at room temperature

Combine butter and the dry ingredients in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Blend at medium speed until dough begins to come together in large clumps.  Remove from mixer bowl and transfer to a piece of plastic wrap.  Gather the dough together into a ball and wrap, pressing the dough flat into a disc.  Chill for 30 minutes.

On a floured board, roll out to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into 2-inch circles with a biscuit cutter.

See photos above for assembly suggestions.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Bake turnover-style cookies for 25 minutes, or until golden brown all over.

Bake tartlets for 30 minutes, or until golden brown all over.

Brush either or both with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. cream) before baking, if desired.

©2010  Jane A. Ward