Category Archives: Christmas

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

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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

We’re Jammin’…and jellyin’ and chutneyin’ too

Hello!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a week, but hadn’t quite got around to it.  Last weekend I did a lot of fruit picking with my dad.  We’d gone sloe and blackberry picking down the drove and collected plums and both eating and cooking apples from my parents’ garden.  I was driven home last Sunday with a lot of this fruit and one of my parents’ large pans so that I could make some jam and other such jarred loveliness.  The result was several jars of plum and ginger jam, plum and apple chutney, apply and thyme jelly and sweet chilli jelly, not to mention the blackberries, stewed apple and sloes (which have since been thrown into a kilner jar with some gin) in my freezer.

I’ve been collecting jars for several months – jam jars, condiment jars, sauce jars etc.  If you’re not a serial hoarder, you can buy jars from cookery shops, homeware stores and even some supermarkets.

Youngest brother climbs into the plum tree.

The instructions below are very very rough – a lot of it was trial and error, involving a lot of tasting between times.

If anyone’s got a favourite preserving recipe I’d love to hear it!

Much love

Gemma xx

Jars and jars and jars of stuff 🙂

Plum and Ginger Jam

4lb fresh plums (most of mine were yellow plums, but there were a handful of little red cherry plums too)
Around 4oz fresh root ginger
1 pint water
Between 1-4lb preserving sugar
Pectin (I used 1 Tate and Lyle Pectin Sachet)

  1. Sterilise some jars and leave in a low oven to keep warm and dry.  I ended up with 6 jars of jam.
  2. Grease your preserving pan to prevent the fruit from sticking.
  3. Weigh the bowl or pan you’ll be stoning your plums into and zero the scales.  This will prevent frustrating guesswork as to how heavy your fruit it later on.
  4. Wash the fruit as necessary.  Stone your plums into the bowl or pan you weighed.  This is a job which can be done whilst sitting on the settee watching a favourite film or some TV programme.  I watching University Challenge and then trashed it up with Don’t Tell the Bride😉

    All of my plums. I had just over 6lb of fruit after it had been stoned. I used 2 thirds in the jam and the rest in my chutney.

  5. Peel the ginger and grate finely.  Squeeze the juice from the fibrous gunk into the fruit and discard.  Add the grated ginger to the plums with the water.
  6. Stew the plums on a medium heat until they have cooked down.  Mix the pectin with some sugar and stir through the fruit to dissolve.  Continue to sweeten the plums, tasting as you go.  I only added about 1lb of sugar because I like my fruit more tart than most people.
  7. Remove the jars from the oven (carefully – they’ll be hot!) and jar the jam immediately.  Label with the type of jam and the date.  Keep in a cool, dark, dry place and refrigerate once opened.

Plum and Apple Chutney

2lb stoned plums
1lb cooking apples
A few onions
Your favourite spices – I think I used some mustard seeds, smoked paprika, ground ginger, cumin and cayenne pepper
Sultanas
Dried figs
2lb brown sugar
1 pint malt vinegar (I used the absolute cheapest stuff and it worked fine)
2 tablespoons salt

Some of our apple harvest.

  1. Sterilise some jars and leave in a low oven to keep warm and dry.  I ended up with 4 very large jars of chutney.
  2. Peel and chop the apple and onion.  Fry the onion and spices in a little oil.
  3. Add the apples to the onion and cook for a couple of minutes.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil.
  4. Turn the heat down and simmer until the fruit has softened and the chutney thickened.
  5. Jar the chutney, label and allow to mature for a couple of weeks before using.

Apple Jelly from The Ballymaloe Cookery Course

5 1/2 lb cooking apples
4 1/2 pints water
2 lemons
Sugar
2 sachets pectin (Darina Allen tells you not to use pectin, but I don’t think this would have set otherwise)
Your chosen flavours – I did some with fresh thyme and some with fresh chilli, but use whichever herbs/spices you fancy

  1. Sterilise some jars and leave in a low oven to keep warm and dry.  I ended up with 7 jars of jelly.
  2. Chop up the apples, but do not discard the peel or cores.  Place in a pan with the water and lemon zest.  Cook until the fruit has turned to pulp.
  3. Transfer the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip overnight.  You’re not supposed to squeeze the bag, but I did in order to get as much juice as possible out of the apples.

    Dangling in a muslin from my kitchen cupboards. One advantage to having door handles which you can thread string through.

  4. Place a couple of plates in the fridge.  You will use these to check if the jelly has set.
  5. Measure the juice into a pan.  Mix the pectin with the sugar and add 1lb of sugar for every 1 pint of juice.  Squeeze the lemons into the juice and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook without stirring for 10 minutes.  As a warning, my jelly was very sweet, but perhaps the apples weren’t as sharp as cookers usually are.
  6. Drop some juice onto one the the cold plates and return to the fridge for a couple of minutes.  Remove the plate and push your finger against the juice – if it wrinkles, it has set and the jelly is ready to jar.
  7. Stir through your chosen flavouring and jar.  As the jelly cools, twist the jars in order to redistribute the herbs/spices so that the pieces are suspended throughout the jelly, rather than floating to the top.
  8. Serve with meats and cheeses or use in cooking.  We had some of the thyme jelly with roast lamb at the weekend, which was really good.  Mint or rosemary would have worked well too.

Buttered Muslin Roast Turkey Leg, with bonus leftovers recipe

Good evening

A Man came home from his sojourn tonight.  I decided that I ought to get tea ready for when he got back, and decided that a roast would be a nice welcome home.  We bought a turkey leg the other day; a joint which is cheap at the best of times at about £2.50 per kilo, but this one was short date and even cheaper at half price.  I’m not a massive fan of turkey, but it’s perfectly acceptable as long as it’s the dark meat.

I’d heard of this method of  cooking turkey which involved draping a buttered muslin over the meat to keep it moist.  Granted, this is more to prevent drying out of the breast, but I figured that as I had made butter recently and had stuck the soaked muslin in the freezer for such an occasion, I would give it a go.  If (like most of the country!) you don’t regularly make butter, you can instead melt some butter and soak the muslin in that.  It was really easy and did make for a very tasty dinner, with the advantage of some tasty leftovers too!  A great advantage of cooking the meat this way is that it guarantees the herbs stay on the skin.

Love love

Gemma xx

Buttered Muslin Roast Turkey Leg

Whole turkey leg
1 square of muslin soaked in butter
Dried herbs (I used rosemary, sage and thyme)
Onion granules
Salt and pepper

One turkey leg wrapped up all snugly before being thrown in the direction of the oven.

  1. Preheat the oven to medium-hot.
  2. Lay the muslin out flat and fold a couple of times until it is the required size.  Sprinkle well with herbs, followed by onion granules, salt and pepper.  Lay the turkey on top and wrap around, tucking in the muslin where necessary.
  3. Cook in the preheated oven for one – 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the turkey leg.  If desired, remove the muslin during the last 20 minutes of cooking.  Serve with roast potatoes, your favourite veg and gravy.
  4. With the leftover meat, I just cut it into chunky pieces and threw it in the slow cooker with some onion, tinned tomatoes and a good dollop of laksa curry paste.  Cook on low for around 4 hours and serve with naan bread.  It was really really simple and really really good!  I also made some great stock with the bone and a chicken carcass which was sitting in the freezer.

Very easy and delicious turkey curry with garlic and coriander naan bread.

Chicken and Ham Pasties

Hullo!

Today has been a day of frustration.  Since yesterday afternoon, I have spent about 7 hours pinning and hemming a dress which still isn’t finished, and have consequently done very little else.  I needed some comfort food, and that’s just what I made.

I bought a cheap cooked chicken yesterday, which was good for very little because it was so dried out!  But in these pasties the meat is enveloped in thick, creamy sauce so it doesn’t matter so much.  The meat almost disintegrated into tiny strips, which it probably wouldn’t have done if it was more moist.  I used this Jamie Oliver recipe for leftover turkey, changing a couple of bits.  I didn’t have any leeks, which was a shame as I love leeks.  But as I had plenty of other veg to have with it I don’t think it really mattered.  I had gammon and ham stock in the freezer from when I made quiche and leftover chestnuts from the venison stew were also put to good use.  As I had enough pastry and filling to make 4 pasties, I froze the other two in separate freezer bags for another day.

Love love

Gemma xx

Chicken and Ham Pasties

A Man pointed out that there had been no veg prep involved here at all. The carrots and spuds were kept whole and boiled for a couple of minutes, and the marrow was such a baby that I didn't bother to peel or seed it - just chopped it into chunks and microwaved it. I love lazy veg! Apologies for the unfocused photo. It didn't look that bad on the camera!

Leftover roast chicken, cut into chunks
Gammon or bacon, cut into chunks
Olive oil and butter
Plain flour
Milk
Good quality stock
Puff pastry
Sage
Chestnuts, crumbled into small pieces
Egg, beaten

  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan until the butter has melted and fry the gammon or bacon for a few minutes until cooked and starting to brown.  Add the chicken and stir well.
  2. Add a lot of flour to the pan and stir well until all of the moisture has been soaked up.  Add milk to the roux a little at a time until you have a thick sauce.  Add stock and milk as required to create a thick gravy.
  3. Drain the chicken-ham mix in a colander so that there is only a small amount of gravy on the meat.  Stir freshly ground black pepper through the meat and set aside.  If you are making the pasties in advance, allow this to cool completely before continuing.
  4. Roll the pastry out on a well-floured surface until very thin.  Sprinkle one half of it with sage and chestnuts, fold the other half of the pastry over and roll it again gently.  Cut the pastry into squares.
  5. Spoon the mixture evenly over one-half of each of the pastry squares, leaving a gap at the edge of each.  Brush the edge with beaten egg, fold the pastry over and seal.  Transfer (gently!) to a baking tray and brush the top with beaten egg.
  6. Bake at 180OC/350OF/Gas mark 4 until the pastry is cooked through and golden brown.  Reheat the gravy which was set aside, and serve with your favourite veg.  We had new potatoes, Roasted marrow and baby carrots.

Raspberry and Strawberry Layered Pavlova

Hello hello

I’ve had some friends to visit and decided that I ought to make a pudding.  Given that I had a load of leftover egg whites in my fridge, something with meringue in seemed like a good plan.  Eton mess seems to be a big thing in some restaurants and on wedding menus recently, but I don’t see the fuss.  I’d much rather have something which looks beautiful as well as tasting very naughty!  Of course the main attraction of a sweet, gooey, creamy meringue is that they are loved by many adults and children alike, and tend to be a good crowd pleaser at parties.

Meringue is really easy to make, provided you’re patient – you have to make sure that you have whisked enough that it will retain its shape when cooked.  But despite being really simple, it looks very impressive and meringue is deliciously gooey and sweet against the tart fruit.  Mine was a caramel colour from using brown sugar, but you can obviously use all white caster sugar if preferred.

The meringue can be made pretty far in advance, but the pavlova must be assembled as possible as the moisture in the cream and fruit will start to dissolve the sugar if left for too long.  There aren’t many ingredients here, and the recipe can be very easily altered to suit your taste – change the fruit, add some cocoa powder to the meringue when whisking in the sugar, add some alcohol to the cream.  Use your imagination, but don’t sweeten the cream – there’s just no need!  If like me you’re a bit scared of cutting your beautiful creation (one of my guests had to serve the dessert for me!) then you can also make mini individual versions of the dish, which would be particularly good if your diners have different filling preferences.

Love love

Gemma xx

 

Raspberry and Strawberry Layered Pavlova

It just looks so beautiful! Very easy to fool people into assuming you possess far greater skill than in reality you have.

5 egg whites
6 oz/170g golden caster sugar
3 oz/ 85g dark brown soft sugar
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 pint/600ml double cream
Strawberries and Raspberries (I used frozen raspberries, as fresh ones were so expensive!) or other fruit

  1. Preheat the oven to 150OC/300OF/Gas Mark 2.  Place the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk until they form soft peaks when you lift the whisk out.  Add the sugar and vinegar and continue to whisk until fairly stiff and glossy.  The sugar needs to have dissolved, so if there is a grainy texture to the mixture at all, continue whisking.  It’s really easy with an electric whisk, but I used an ordinary balloon hand whisk and it didn’t take too long.
  2. Draw 3 circles on greaseproof paper, about 8 inches in diameter, cut so that there is space around the edge of the circles and place each onto a baking sheet.  Divide the egg whites between the three sheets, spreading out as evenly as possible to the edges of the drawn circle.  Bake for around 30-40 minutes, until the meringue is crispy and comes away easily from the greaseproof paper.  Turn the oven off, and leave the meringues in the oven to cool and dry out.
  3. Prepare the fruit.  Whip the cream until it is fairly stiff (together with any alcohol etc).
  4. Place one meringue disc onto a serving dish.  Cover with a layer of cream, followed by a layer of fruit.  Place a small amount of cream over the top of the fruit in the middle (to ensure the meringue sticks), and place the second disc on top.  Repeat until the pavlova has been assembled.

Salmon en Croute

Morning!

Had a uni friend over last night for a gossip, a catch-up and dinner.  I’ve had a joint of salmon in my freezer since October and have been looking for an excuse to use it up, so decided to make salmon en croute last night.  It’s really simple, but looks effective and seems pretty up-market so is a great choice for times when you have guests over – it’s particularly popular over the Christmas season.  Another advantage is that you can make the croute early in the day, then just pop it in the oven 20 minutes or so before serving.  The only thing you have to be careful about is not to overdo the dill – it’s quite strong and can end up overpowering the other flavours if you aren’t careful.

You can make your own puff pastry if you like, but it’s not something I’d bother doing – it takes an incredibly long time, and the ready-made versions you can buy are pretty good these days.  Alternatively, you could use shortcrust if you’d prefer, but for me the combination of salmon and puff works beautifully.  If you do use frozen salmon, defrost it for a couple of days in the fridge – it takes quite a long time, but thaws more evenly, and means that the fish retains its moisture.

Much love

Gemma xx

Salmon en Croute

Fresh salmon joint or fillets, defrosted if frozen
2 or 3 large handfuls fresh spinach
2 sprigs fresh dill, stripped from the stalks
250g tub mascarpone
Salt and Pepper
Juice 1/2 lemon
Puff Pastry
1 beaten egg

  1. Remove any skin and bones from the fish.  Try to remove even the tiny pin bones if possible.  Cut into long strips and set aside.
  2. Chop the spinach and dill into very fine pieces.  Mix with the mascarpone and season to taste.  If you like, you can put it in a food processor and whiz it all together, but I didn’t bother.
  3. Roll the puff pastry into a long rectangle.  Decide at this point whether you plan to do one long croute, or individual ones for each diner – it doesn’t make much difference which you go for.  If you want to make individual parcels, cut the pastry into the right number of pieces.
  4. Lay a third of the salmon pieces over the pastry, and spoon a little of the mascarpone over the top.  Repeat with the other pieces of salmon so you have 2 – 3 layers, each with spinach and dill between them.  You should have used about half of the sauce by the time all of the salmon is laid out – save this for later.
  5. Trim the pastry if necessary, and wrap one side over the fish.  Brush with beaten egg.  Wrap the other side over and brush with beaten egg.  Cut some slits all along the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape.  Decorate with cut-out pastry remnants, if desired.
  6. Once you’re nearly ready to eat, preheat the oven to 180OC/350OF/Gas mark 4.  I cooked mine on the pizza stone so it was nice and crispy on the bottom, but you can use an ordinary baking sheet if preferred – either way, place it in the oven to preheat.
  7. Tip the croute onto its side to ensure the bottom is well floured.  Place in the oven and bake for around 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and a knife stuck into the middle of the salmon comes out hot.
  8. Add the juice of half a lemon to the remaining mascarpone and heat through.  Serve the salmon with vegetables (we had chantenay carrots, broccoli and griddled flat mushrooms) and the mascarpone sauce.
  9. If you have any leftover pastry, roll it out flat and sprinkle with grated cheese and sesame seeds.  Cut into strips, twist and bake until golden – they make great little cheese straws!