Category Archives: Boozy

Christmas. Let’s face it, it’s all about fruit and booze.

Hello hello hello.  I know, I know, it’s been bloody ages, but my cooking is pretty dull these days I’m afraid.  Something called work is apparently preventing me from being creative…

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was about time to start making my staple Christmas prepare-ahead foods – the cake, the pud and the mincemeat.  I wrote this blog post at the time but for some reason forgot to post it after I’d taken the photos, but now I can add a picture of my tree, so perhaps it’s all for the good 🙂

I'm really pleased we've wrapped what we've got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy!  Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts :)

I’m really pleased we’ve wrapped what we’ve got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy! Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts 🙂

This year, I don’t actually need to make a cake because a) last year’s never got eaten and is still in the cupboard and b) we still have wedding cake left (which is also a fruit cake).  Just need to ice it in a couple of weeks’ time.  Easy!

I soaked the fruit for the mincemeat for a couple of days as per my previous recipe.  It’s more or less identical, except I added some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (as I had some pomegranates in the fridge) and I used madiera instead or port, as I didn’t have any port in the house.  It smells gorgeous but doesn’t have that same wonderful ruby colour, so I’ll probably revert to port next year.

I also rolled and froze 90 pastry cases (!) so I’m well geared up for mince pies again.  The pastry is amazingly flaky and short, and the madiera has worked fabulously.  I’ve made a medly of different shaped lids this year using some new mini cutters I bought recently; they’re so cute!

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men.  Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind...

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men. Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind…

The puds also follow more or less the same recipe as before, except I didn’t have any dark rum, so the fruit was soaked for a week in a combination of Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum and home-steeped raspberry whisky.  I am now the proud owner of a silver sixpence, given to me by my dad and worn by me in my shoe on my wedding day for luck, so (after having been cleaned!) that was stirred into the mixture.  As A Man was out at a kickboxing thing today, I made sure I chucked all the ingredients into the bowl before he left so he didn’t miss out on Stir-up Sunday and making a wish!  The main change this year is that I’ve finally treated myself to some ceramic pudding basins, spurred by succeeding last year in melting one of the plastic basins in a friend’s saucepan at our annual get-together (whoops!).  They’re pretty too, with their polka-dotted exteriors.  I got one 2-pint basin and two 1-pints.  I also bought a lovely tall 10 litre pan yesterday, so I was able to steam the puds properly!  Now it’s just the case of finding a proper steaming trivet, as I managed to split a saucer in two this time, using it to stand the basin on…

Yay!  Pudding basins that won't melt!

Yay! Pudding basins that won’t melt!

I also decided I should do something with a load of cooking apples given to us by A Man’s mum.  The mandolin was out after having made chips last night, and I had just treated myself to an apple corer, so I decided to try my hand at apple crisps.  They are one of my absolute favourite snacks, but they’re bloody expensive to buy!  To be honest, I wasn’t sure about using cooking apples as I thought they might be too bitter, but they worked fantastically!  It was simply a case of washing and coring the apples, thinly slicing them into water mixed with lemon juice, laying the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cooking at around 100C for a couple of hours, until they had dried out.  Then they get stored in an airtight container to be nommed at your leisure!  Before baking I sprinkled some with cinnamon, some with mixed spice, some with five spice and left some plain.  Some people like to add a little sugar too, but I like a nice tart apple slice, so I didn’t bother.  Honestly, they’re better than the ones you can buy!  I’m almost tempted to buy myself a dehydrator from Amazon…  So good for you, and a nice way to preserve surplus fruit, without having to go down the jelly or chutney route (which I had already done a couple of months ago, and have jars and jars of stuff leftover).

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They’ve actually all disappeared now, but they were yummy while they lasted!

I’ve now marzipanned and iced the cake, but haven’t bothered to take a photo yet as I need to decorate it yet.  Hopefully it’ll be ready before next weekend, which is the annual get-together which this year is being hosted in Birmingham, the day after my office Christmas party…  See a hint of the carnage of 2011 (when A Man and I hosted) here.

Hope you’re all sufficiently into the spirit of the season!  Much love.

Gemma xx

Restaurant Review – Den Dijver, Bruges

Hello hello.  Long time no post.  You know how it is: work, sleep, wedding plan…

Except that the wedding has now happened!  Yes, A Man and I got married on 20 July 2013 and I am therefore now A Wife!  The day was fabulous, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

We went on honeymoon for 3 nights to Bruges, in Belgium.  We openly confess that the idea to go to Bruges essentially stemmed from this film.

Usually, when A Man and I go on holiday, it’s very much a budget affair.  We go camping, we cook for ourselves, we take advantage of free entertainment etc etc.  The plan for the honeymoon was simple: go for a short time, so that we could really have a blow out and spend a ridiculous amount of money in a couple of days.  Drink beer, eat chocolate, go out for meals.

The parents of Best Man P gave us a Lonely Planet guide to Bruges as a wedding present, which was absolutely brilliant.  One of the restaurants it recommended was Den Dijver, where they pair each course with a complementary beer.  The menu is more expensive than we’d ever normally spend on a meal out but that didn’t matter.  We decided that it sounded like a great experience, so we got all dressed up and went over on Wednesday night.

It was closed.  We were grumpy.  We went to a different restaurant.

We tried again on Thursday night.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have our posh clothes to wear but never mind.  We went along to the restaurant and were shown through to the garden.  We were offered an aperitif of either a 7% local beer, or the house special of cherry beer with cava, similar to kir royale, which we both chose and which was really delicious.

Tables under the wines, and A Man with our aperitifs.

Tables under the vines, and A Man with our aperitifs.

A little while later we were surprised with an amuse bouche of marinated salmon with soft goat’s cheese, which was really yummy.

A salmon amuse bouche in a little globe.

A salmon amuse bouche in a little globe.

We chose to have the three course meal, with the accompanying beer suggestions.  As the guide book says, you can instead choose to have wines but that would rather be missing the point.  My first course was Carpaccio “Rossini” with goose liver.  It was perfectly seasoned, and the liver was amazingly buttery.  A Man had Artichoke with a mustard dressing which he thoroughly enjoyed.  There was also some amazing bread which was still hot when it arrived at the table, and which had an incredible crunchy crust.  The bread was dark with a really deep flavour.  My beer was a delicious Grimbergen Blonde, whilst A Man had Paljas Blond.

A Man and I couldn't quite remember how much of the artichoke you're meant to eat, but it was delicious (and he made sure he mopped up every last drop of the sauce with some bread!).  The carpaccio came with a lovely salad, which included flowers.  You can see the bread behind the beers, and there's also a photo of the condiments - the butter sits in a hollowed out piece of slate.

A Man and I couldn’t quite remember how much of the artichoke you’re meant to eat, but it was delicious (and he made sure he mopped up every last drop of the sauce with some bread!). The carpaccio came with a lovely salad, which included flowers. You can see the bread behind the beers, and there’s also a photo of the condiments – the butter sits in a hollowed out piece of slate.

After our starters came the main courses.  A Man had chosen Duck Breast with Peaches, Almonds and Belgian Chicory.  The duck was delicious and the accompaniments worked beautifully with it.  It was paired with Trappist Achel.  I chose Dory in Salt Crust with Southern Vegetables, Pesto and Tapenade.  The fish flaked gorgeously, and the pesto was perfect with it.  My main course was paired with Tripel Karmeliat.  A Man had in fact tried both beers the previous day and both were declared to be excellent, so we were really pleased to know that we would enjoy them.

A Man indicates how manically excited he is about his duck.

A Man indicates how manically excited he is about his duck.

Unfortunately, at this point the camera died 😦  Stupidly we hadn’t considered the fact that we had been taking pictures and videos for 3 days, and that sometimes batteries need to be recharged, so we only managed to get one more poor quality photograph of our meal before it gave up the ghost.

For dessert, A Man had originally chosen strawberries with mascarpone, mint and pistachio but they had run out of strawberries, so he changed his order to Cherries with Cherry Beer Sorbet.  I opted for Sabayon with Geuze.  A Man’s cherries arrived with a bottle of Lindeman’s Kriek, the cherry beer with which the sorbet was made.  The cherry beer is sweet and not something you would want to drink regularly, but perfect to round off the meal.  Mine came with a bottle of Oude Gueuze Tilquin.  The waitress explained to me that no sugar is added to the beer, which makes it very sharp but refreshing.  She was certainly right!  It reminded me of true dry scrumpy cider, and it was lovely with the sabayon.  A Man’s cherries were warm and juicy, and the melting sorbet was delicious.  The sabayon was light, and perfectly balanced between the sweet foamy top and the sharp gueuze used beneath (and of course, drunk alongside!)

My sabayon and gueze before the camera died, and a couple of photos of the drinks shamelessly stolen from the internet.

My sabayon and gueuze before the camera died, and a couple of photos of the drinks shamelessly stolen from the internet.

We were then offered coffee.  A Man decided against it, but I said that I would like one.  Like the aperitif, this was accompanied by a surprise bonus second dessert!  This was a chocolate mousse with sharp raspberry coulis, together with a couple of little biscuits and was just perfect to round off the meal.  The coffee wasn’t bad either.

We would thoroughly recommend Den Dijver to anyone going to Bruges, as the service was great, the setting was beautiful and the food was incredible.  It was great to have the experience of having our beers matched to our courses, and whilst it was more expensive than we would normally pay for a meal out, at €140 for both of our meals and drinks, it wasn’t extortionate and we definitely plan to go back next time we’re in Bruges (oh yes, there will be a next time!).  Only next time we’ll make sure we check when the place is open, and ensure that we save our posh clothes for then.

The world’s most incredible steak

Good morning

So, last night A Man and I almost went out for dinner, but then decided to stay in instead and just use the money we would have spent at a restaurant to cook something incredible.  Rib eye steak was on offer at the supermarket, but still more expensive by weight than a rib of beef joint.  We went mad.  We bought a single rib joint and A Man took his cleaver to it when we got home.  2 enormous steaks and a couple more in the freezer.  Excellent!

I forgot to take any photos of A Man butchering the joint, but I’m sure you can guess what it looked like.

As far as I’m concerned, the key to cooking great steak is to ensure that it’s properly seasoned, and to make sure it’s nice and dry before you cook it.  If the meat has a ton of moisture on the surface, the steak will essentially steam, which is just what you don’t want.  The method below worked fantastically, and I’d recommend it.

Much love

Gemma xx

Great steak with baked chips, mushroom sauce and peas

2 steaks
Olive oil
3 large cloves garlic
Dried thyme
About 100g butter
1 white onion
1 large punnet mushrooms
A couple of tablespoons of rum or brandy
100g crème fraîche (I used Yeo Valley Organic half fat)
A small amount of stock, preferably home made
Potatoes
Frozen peas

  1. Crush and chop the garlic finely.  In a large bowl, mix around half of the garlic with a good glug of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon of thyme and some salt and pepper.  Dry the steak if necessary with a clean tea towel or kitchen roll, and marinate in the oil mix.  Turn the steak over and rub it around to ensure that the whole steak has had the oil treatment.

    The steaks sit and wait, poised to jump into the frying pan, and into my eagerly awaiting mouth.

    The steaks sit and wait, poised to jump into the frying pan, and into my eagerly awaiting mouth.

  2. Heat about 1 tablespoon oil in a frying pan with the butter, until the butter starts to bubble.  Finely slice the onion and add this with the remaining garlic to the pan.  Stir regularly and cook until the onion is soft.
  3. Slice the mushrooms and add these to the onions.  Continually turn them over, so that they are evenly cooked.  Cook the mushrooms until they are soft and have started to reduce.
  4. While the mushrooms are cooking, prepare your potatoes.  You can peel them if you like, but I prefer not to.  Cut them into chips of fairly even size, and then rinse the chips in cold water.  This will remove some of the starch from the surface and help to make a crispy chip.  Mix in a bowl with a touch more olive oil, and some salt, pepper and any herbs or spices you wish to add to your chips.  My favourite is smoked paprika.
  5. Turn the oven on very high, and place a baking tray in to heat up.
  6. Add the rum or brandy to the mushrooms and stir vigorously.  It should sizzle a lot.  Stir through the crème fraîche and stock and allow to bubble for a couple of minutes.  Season the sauce to taste, and add a little water if it is too thick.  Remove from the heat – you can warm it through again just before serving.
  7. Cook the chips on the preheated tray.  Depending on their size, and how crowded they are on the tray, they should take around 30 – 45 minutes.  Warm the plates if possible.
  8. A few minutes before serving, heat a dry griddle on the hob until it starts to smoke.  Put the peas on to boil (they really only need the water to boil, then they can be switched off).  Add the steaks to the griddle and watch them carefully.  Cook to your liking.  We usually have ours rare, but these came out slightly more on the medium side because I cooked them a little too long, but they were so tender it just didn’t matter.  Warm the mushrooms through at this point.

    Everything on the go.  I have to say, it was somewhat extravagant having steaks that only just fit in the griddle...

    Everything on the go. I have to say, it was somewhat extravagant having steaks that only just fit in the griddle…

  9. Once the steak is cooked, immediately plate up everything  Pour any juices from the steak pan back over the meat.  Revel in just how incredible your dinner is going to be.
Incredible steaks, delicious mushrooms, perfect crispy chips and, well, peas.  What an amazing Saturday night dinner!  Over the top, yes, but still better value for money than going to a restaurant or getting a takeaway.

Incredible steaks, delicious mushrooms, perfect crispy chips and, well, peas. What an amazing Saturday night dinner! Over the top, yes, but still better value for money than going to a restaurant or getting a takeaway.

Chop chop

Evening

I decided this evening it was about time to blog some dinner, and what better to blog than some pork n stuff?  Usually I’d make this with cider, but we don’t have any open at the moment, so instead I’ve added some glugs of Apple and Fig juice.  Obviously standard apple juice or cider would do fine.

I love having excuses to use my beautiful teal casserole, but the problem with slow cooked chops is that they can end up a little on the flabby side.  The chops in question were from A Man’s dad’s pigs and as such have a really thick layer of fat on them.  To remedy the flabbiness, I snipped the rind and fried it off before cooking the meat – I think it worked OK, although you’re never going to get true crispiness when cooking this way.

Much love

Gemma xx

Pork chops in garlic and apple jus

1 pork chop per person

Butter and olive oil

1 red and 1 white onion

About half a dozen cloves of garlic (I used half ordinary and half smoked garlic)

2 eating apples

2 sticks celery

3 mushrooms

Herbs of your choice

Apple juice or cider

  1. Snip the fat on the pork chops every inch or so.  Don’t trim down to the meat!
  2. Heat the butter and oil in the pan.  Chop your onions and add them to the oil, frying gently.  Peel the garlic cloves and add them whole to the pan.
  3. Fry the rind of the chops in the pan but don’t cook the meat.  I achieved this by closing my tongs around the chops and locking them closed, so they stood up by themselves.
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    Continue to stir the onions and garlic.  When the chops have cooked for a few minutes and the rind has started to crisp up, remove them from the pan.
  4. Core the apple and chop it into chunky slices.  Finely slice the celery and mushrooms and add everything to the pan with some herbs.  Stir occasionally.
  5. After a few minutes, add a little juice or cider and allow it to reduce slightly.  At this stage I also added some of my apple and thyme jelly.
  6. Nestle the chops amongst the onions and apple and add a lid to the pan.  Place in a low oven for around 40 minutes.
  7. Check the sauce before serving and reduce on the hob slightly if necessary.  Serve with mashed potato.
Seriously, this pork was so tender it basically required no chewing.

Seriously, this pork was so tender it basically required no chewing.

Birthdays are for wine and cake and chocolate

So why not combine all three?

Hello there.  It’s been a while, I know.  Life has been…hectic since starting work.  I make no apologies – I simply don’t have the hours at home that I used to.

 

It was A Man’s birthday yesterday.  After work on Monday, I went to the supermarket to buy the ingredients to make him a birthday cake.  “No need to buy brown sugar,” thought I, “We’ve got some in the cupboard.”  Little did I know that, because of the following rule, the brown sugar was gone.

YOU HAVE TO BRING YOUR OWN BIRTHDAY CAKE INTO THE OFFICE

It would appear that, when he arrived home, A Man made his own birthday cake (a carrot cake) to take to work with him the following morning.  Cue another trip to the supermarket.  Grrr.

Anywho, this is an incredible cake recipe I have made once before.  I was searching the internet for red velvet recipes when I came across this one.  I made it as a kind of gimmick, as the person I was making it for is known for loving red wine.  As it happens, the cake was INCREDIBLE and was dubbed by my dad as the best cake he had ever eaten.  Needless to say, I just had to make it again.

I cocked up the frosting somewhat last time, and I have to confess that due to that and the aforementioned job thing, I bought a tub of ready-made cream cheese frosting.  I felt guilty for about 3 seconds and then decided there are more things in life to get het up about than whether or not I made the frosting on the cake.  It’s just one of those skills I can’t seem to get the hang of.

One tip for you: by all means sprinkle the cake liberally with finely grated chocolate.  Just remember that you’ll get chocolate dust everywhere when it comes to candle-blowing-out time…

I won’t repeat the recipe here, but here are some photos of my efforts.

Much love

Gemma xx

A Man attempts to entinguish the candles without blowing chocolate all over the dining table.

A Man attempts to entinguish the candles without blowing chocolate all over the dining table.

Masterfully slicing the cake and transferring it to a plate.

Masterfully slicing the cake and transferring it to a plate.

Got to be honest, I am obscenely pleased with this cake!

Got to be honest, I am obscenely pleased with this cake!

Look! It’s been snowing.

Hello there.

As you will undoubtedly be aware, it’s been snowing.  You get many many bonus points if you can tell me where the innocuous phrase in the title came from.

I had to work from home yesterday, as my trains were cancelled, and A Man also worked from the Warminster office as riding 50 miles on a motorbike with snow on its tyres would not have been an especially sensible idea.  This meant we were able to meet up for a lunchtime walk, and take some pretty photos of the park.

Let it Snow

I love this man’s olde-worlde sledge!

WARNING – THIS POST IS ABOUT TO GET CHRISTMASSY 3 AND A HALF WEEKS TOO LATE

Thanks to Charles Dickens, snow in the UK is commonly associated with Christmas, despite it actually hardly ever happening.  The fact of it being snowy outside led me to make a somewhat rash decision.  Bring out the Christmas pudding!

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

I made 2 Christmas puds this year in November, both 2 pints and one with a silver sixpence in.  The first we took to our friends’ house for our annual Christmas dinner and as I had no idea which pud had the sixpence, there was no question of microwaving to warm it up (not to mention, it always tastes better when steamed).  Unfortunately, a combination of drunkenness, a too-small pan, boiling dry and stupidity, the plastic pudding basin melted.  The pud was luckily salvageable and very tasty but didn’t even have the sixpence so I knew it was in the one at home.

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

As we were visiting family over Christmas we never got the opportunity to have the second pudding.  I decided that, to be safe, I would reheat the pud in the same way I cooked them: wrapped in a muslin, and steamed in the slow cooker sitting on a saucepan.  It worked really well and the pudding was surprisingly light.

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The recipe was more or less the same as last year’s, but I used the following fruit instead:

4 oz Dried figs
3 oz Prunes
5 oz Apricots
6 oz Currants
1 lb Sultanas

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After last year’s embarrassingly alcoholic pudding, I recorded how much rum I fed the puddings: 1 capful once a week for 5 weeks.  A little more wouldn’t have hurt, but the amount used was pretty good.

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Christmas pudding served with its perfect accompaniment of lots of clotted cream.

I’ve also still got the Christmas cake in the cupboard, without marzipan or icing, again because we didn’t really have an opportunity to eat it.  I’ll save it for another post, but I’m seriously considering keeping it in the cupboard until next year, and having a 13-month matured cake – that’s got to be good, right?!

If you’ve read this far congratulations.  Have a mince pie (yup, I’ve been cooking those too!).

Much love

Gemma x

Hijacking A Man’s New Griddle

Well hello there.  Long time no post.

I’d like to have a good excuse for having not written up any new recipes, but truth be told I’ve been pretty lazy.  I’ve not felt inspired to cook recently and have been rehashing old recipes which I can assure you wouldn’t have been especially inspiring.

Yesterday was A Man’s first day in his new (permanent!) job and I had intended to cook him something exotic, exciting and celebratory for tea.  That never quite occurred, but what I cooked instead was I think a resounding success.  It was a slightly different take on an old favourite of ours – pork topped with cheese and apple.  The apple came from my parents’ garden (more on that in a later post) and the cheese was a tomato chutney cheddar, which added something a little unusual to the proceedings.

The griddle is A Man’s latest kitchen toy, but as I cook more often than he does I pinched it to use for this recipe.  It was a leaving gift from his former colleagues, and is cast iron and purple and brilliant.  I love the excuse to use it on the hob and under the grill 🙂

Love love

Gemma xx

Griddled cheesy pork chop

1 bulb fennel
Handful of mushrooms
Pork chops or steaks
Cheese
1 apple
Olive oil
Butter
Cider

  1. Warm plates in a fairly low oven.
  2. Heat a little olive oil in the griddle on a medium-high hob.  Slice the fennel into 8(ish) pieces, leaving the core intact to keep the leaves together.  Trim the stems from the mushrooms.
  3. Place the fennel and mushrooms in the griddle and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and turn regularly, until they have started to brown nicely.
  4. Once the veg is cooked through, either push it to the sides (if the griddle is large enough) or transfer to a warm plate.  Place the pork on the griddle to start cooking.
  5. Peel and core the apple and grate with the cheese, mixing together well.  Turn the pork after a couple of minutes and add some butter to the pan.  Top the pork with the cheese mix and pop under the grill to brown.
  6. Transfer the pork to the warm plate and return the griddle to the hob.  Once the juices have started to foam, add a generous slug of cider.  Reduce by around half.
  7. Plate up the pork and veg.  Swirl the griddle to ensure the sauce is well mixed and pour over the top.  Serve immediately.

Yet another example of my poor presentational skills…