Christmas menu

4 11 2011

I’ve started thinking about our christmas menu. It’s just going to be Ben and I at the cottage, so I’m looking for FUN, luxurious, delicious, fairly easy dishes for two. Too early to plan the menu? Nonsense. It’s almost time to start the christmas pudding – my first! And with a very tight budget, I need to plan, plan, plan so I can set aside enough money for the christmas shop. All my christmas gift shopping is done. Next year, with a bit more cash to spend, I’m going to make edible treats for everyone instead of gifts. They may be DIY but ingredients, cases, and boxes don’t make it the perfect budget option. I’ll be piloting a few chocolate truffle recipes this time round instead of buying chocolate treats for ourselves so I have a ready tested recipe next christmas. Mint chocolate truffles and Grand Marnier truffles are a must. Will be interested to compare Gordon’s recipe for these with Chantal Coady’s Saturday kitchen no honey recipe.

Christmas breakfast

Traditionally we have smoked salmon and scrambled eggs served with bucksfizz on christmas morning. Since Ben and I have this quite regularly as a specual weekend breakfast, I need to come up with something even better. So far I’ve been most tempted by Gordon Ramsey’s Provencal Christmas Bread. It’s something I’d only ever make once a year, and looks really pretty. I love citrus notes in baked goods, and this bread contains zest and is brushed with orange flower water, delicious! This has got to beat croissants.

Christmas dinner

Starter

I’m in two minds about the perfect starter. I adore chicken liver parfait, and have been meaning to make my own pate for years, if only I could get over the thought of buying and handling livers. I’m keen to make my own onion marmalade to go with it and enjoy making melba toast. However, a fish starter is so decadent, be it crab, lobster, or salmon based. I’ve ben craving cottage cheese so bought some this week thinking I’d have it on a jacket potato. As usual, it came to lunchtime and I wanted something instant so I asked bbc recipes what else I could do with the cottage cheese. I came across a recipe for makerel pate. Perfect I thought.

I used:

2 smoked makerel
125g cottage cheese150g creme fraiche
juice of a lemon
grated nutmeg, smoked paprika, salt and pepper

Cook times:

No cooking, takes 5 minutes to assemble.

Make it better:

It was far too runny. Try sour cream instead of creme fraiche next time. Try using only sour cream or creme fraiche and no cottage cheese and vice versa. Couldn’t taste the nutmeg though I added loads. I love smoked paprika but try alternatives. Couldn’t really taste the makerel, it would probaby help if it was left chunkier and there was less liquid added.

The final word:

Really easy to make. Skin comes off the makerel really easily, and if you flake the fish into the mixer to check for bones you wont come across many. Yummy. Fresh is always better than bought. Ready to try this out with salmon and crab now!

Main

This is all about the meat for me. With the perfect roast chicken being almost a weekly endeavour in our kitchen, I simply have to go for something more unusual than turkey this year. Being just the two of us it’s the perfect chance to pick something small but exciting. I’ve been thinking about goose, or duck. Last year I brined my turkey and noted that the treatment and flavours would suit a duck wonderfully, so that’s one option. Every time I’ve tried to succeed with duck though has resulted in tough chewey failure. Goose is a big unknown to us so it’s tempting. If money were no object I’d go for a four bird roast which I think is just a wonderful concept. I’m resolved to cook a beef wellington over christmas although again I’m nervous after my previous lack of success.

Dessert

As a year-round trifle fan, I have to have my fill of proper homemade sherry trifle at christmas. My mom does a sterling job adding plenty of sherry, so maybe I’ll not bother with my own. For a while I’ve been obsessed with the chocolate yule log. Posh swiss rolls they may be but they are so exciting. They fill me with a sense of challenge. They look so festive and impressive when done properly, I think they’re worth it. I do really want to make a christmas pud this year. I see it as an enjoyably long drawn out ritual more than anything. I love to get in the christmas spirit as early as possible and what better way. For the day itself though, I think I’m going to make a panna cotta. One of my favourite things to order when dining out. It’s a refeshing and sublime dessert perfect for that christmas dinner bloatedness.

Coming soon: more on austerity measures and the perfect yule log 🙂





Pumpkin leftovers

31 10 2011

Tonight I gutted the pumpkin. Loving to cook can mean you eat more than your fair share of yummy foody goodness, so how better to shift a few calories than giving your arms a work out with a pumpkin. Next year I might actually invest in a proper gutting tool. My mission tonight was to extract as much useable flesh from the pumpkin whilst keeping it whole so I could make a pretty lantern out of it later. Oh boy scraping the sides first with a spoon, then levering chunks off with a knife, then scraping with a smaller spoon, back to the big spoon, in with the hands through the tiny top hat hole was hard work!

I ended up with a pile of flesh like this

from a basketball sized pumpkin.That’s not a lot of flesh, and it’s more watery than squash flesh. The pumpkin ended up splitting from the pressure of my defleshing, but I tried to make it part of his scary face. Did I succeed? By the way this year alot of people are putting my mundane carving ideas to shame with their pumpkin art including scary kitteh carving, and doctor who tardis carving! Will have to up my game for next year!

The sausage and pumpkin casserole I made with the fresh was warming and delicious like your Grandma’s knitted snuggle blanket. The photos I took don’t do it justice, so all I’ll say is if you loved Heinz baked beans and sausages as a kid, use this recipe as a respectable grown up alternative to that guilty pleasure.

I did a couple of things differently – used balsamic instead of white wine vinegar, butter beans instead of cannellini beans and dried herbs instead of fresh and no shallots because I had neither in the kitchen. Worked great anyway. Serve with good tiger bread.

I hate to waste things, so my mind turned to what to do with the large amount of wet pith and seeds. Apparently you can make pumpkin cocktails! I adore cocktails so this is good news for festive me. I feel a pumpkin party coming on.

Instead of linking to or pasting coctail recipes here I’m just going to talk about the general principles. Who has agave nectar lying around anyway?!Mix the cocktail with the ratios that work for you. Just taste and adjust as you go – more fun that way 🙂

With pumpkin puree made by steaming and blending with OJ, mixed spice and honey

and ice

shake:

  • RUM
  • ginger (liquer, syrup or fresh)
  • lime and sugar/honey(for muddling)

OR

  • RUM
  • pineapple juice
  • grenadine
  • lemonade/soda

OR

  • WHISKEY
  • sour cherry liquer

OR

  • VANILLA VODKA

OR

  • TEQUILA
  • cream

OR

  • RUM
  • hot earl grey tea
  • maple syrup

OR

  • VANILLA VODKA
  • good fresh apple juice
  • ginger ale

Topping ideas include toasted pumpkin seeds and grated nutmeg, cinnamon, lime, pineapple, pumpkin wedges.

This post was so much fun. I can’t wait to try out these recipes and come up with some recipes myself!





Adventures in Puff Pastry

17 10 2011

Kind of a new craze of mine – easy open pies using ready rolled puff pastry. So far I’ve tried roasted veg and feta, egg and bacon, turkey and butternut squash with some success.

How I mix it up: The pies work well brushed with tomato pureee or pesto before being filled. Pick a cheese any cheese, this will always make it better. Don’t over season or try to use too many flavours, just choose your dominant one. I’ve also successfully produced an upside down or lid-only pie. If you go for this option, make the filling a bit wetter. A great idea for using up bits n bobs from the fridge that have almost had it!

Yet to try: I’ve yet to try my hand at sweet inventions using the good old puff – intriguing! Pressing herbs or spice into both sides of pastry might also be worth trying.

My downfall: Because you don’t cook the pastry until the filling goes in, the underside can turn out a little raw. The problem with pre-cooking is that the exposed sides will most likely burn – yuk. I read that it might not be that the underside is undercooked but that it’s being made soggy by the filling. Folk advise a barrier between pastry and filling to prevent moisture seep. Filo pastry is suggested as the barrier or ‘shroud’ – I know right?! I prick the base which I assume helps.

I LOVE PIES especially in Autumn and Winter, they are so filling and warming. Mmmmmm.I also adore butternut squash so here is a recipe I made up the other week. Traditionally you team squash with sage, but using my nose, I reckon tarragon is just a stronger variant for that flavour combo.

  • Brown large chunks of pork, then set aside in your pie dish. Add spinach leaves (unwilted, just straight out the packet).
  • Saute butternut squash cubes in butter with garlic and tarragon until just soft.
  • Deglaze pan with white wine (I used dessert wine) and then add dijon mustard, cream, and simmer for 5 mins.
  • Season and pour over pork and top with puff pastry.
  • Bake for 20 mins or until golden and crispy.
  • Serve with a baby leaf salad tossed in EVOO and sea salt.

 

 





A few discoveries, a few links

2 09 2011

Deviating a bit here but wanted to share a few delightful food-related discoveries.

1) Today I got carried away copying down various recipes from this lady’s blog http://littlejennywren.blogspot.com

A really cute blog by someone who so obviously loves their life, their home, and treasures their family above all else.

2) A few weeks ago hubby and I happened in on The Arch House Deli in Clifton, Bristol. If you are ever in Bristol, please go, sample their goods, have lunch their, buy some gourmet supplies. We came away with a bottle of truffle oil, destined for dinner party risottos; and a bottle of fig and date cream balsamic, which is so delicious you can just mop it up with bread. No need to mix with olive oil, just on its own is ace. http://www.archhousedeli.com

I could have spent a FORTUNE in there!

3) I recently ordered a couple of tea towels and a candle from this company http://www.ochreandocre.com

Really nice prints. The candle is good quality though probably wouldn’t choose the same frangrance again. Went for uplifting or something, would be nice to try a cosier one.





Sweetums

2 09 2011

For ages I’ve been meaning to do a tray bake or cake every Sunday to last the week. Since we have a lovely big kitchen in our new cottage (a modest sized kitchen by American standards but hey after TinyFlat we’re in HEAVEN!) I’ve been really getting into bulk cooking on Sundays.

Sweet treat one: Bread Pudding

NOT to be confused with bread and butter pudding. This is so nostalgic for me, eaten cold – firm but soft, filling, easy to make! 

Delia’s recipe is spot on. I would only add to be sure to poke the dried fruit below the mixture surface where possible, to prevent burnt raisins which I can’t stand.

8oz bread, no crusts, small pieces

275ml milk

2oz melted butter

3oz brown sugar

2 tsp ground mixed spice

1 beaten egg

6oz dried fruit

zest 1/2 an orange

grated nutmeg

Soak the bread in the milk, add wet then dry ingredients, transfer to greased dish, sprinkle nutmeg. 180c for about 1 hour.

Sweet treat two: Earl Grey and Rose cake

I cannot stress enough how high my hopes for this cake were. I got the recipe from http://shop.twinings.co.uk/competitions/royaltea/pdf/victoria-sponge-recipe.pdf

These are my two most favourite flavours and will forever remind me of my wedding. I usually stick with Delia’s All in One if I’m making a sandwich cake, just adding different things to flavour the basic mix. I stuck to this creaming method recipe faithfully to see how it compared to my ol’ faithful.

Verdict:

Makes a better sized sandwich than the all in one, and is decidely more moist! I did slightly undercook the cake, sometimes you have to sacrifice the very centre for the rest being perfectly cooked. It was VERY moist. This is not helped by the icing glaze. It soaked into the sponge as it sloped off, and unless you use colouring, you wont be able to see it.

It tasted very nice. Quite sweet, unsurprisingly! But the disappointing thing was you could not taste the rose or the tea.  Hmpf.

Make it better: I’m going to try adding the flavourings to the all in one recipe. It might take the flavours better being a slightly drier cake. The author of this recipe suggests a different recipe altogether for cupcakes, however I think this or the all in one recipe made as fairy cakes (NB: I detest the way cupcakes have gazumped fairy cakes. They are not cup cakes, they are fairy cakes. Cup cakes are too big, fairy cakes are the perfect size. Fairy cakes have a cuter name, plus they are cuter. That is all.) might be very good. Substitute the filling for rose jelly if you can get it. Otherwise flavour as strongly as possible jam with rose water. Substitue glazing for buttercream icing flavoured in the same way. Edible flowers would be a massive win here. x





Soup making – my new favourite thing

2 09 2011

So when we moved in together, I pegged soups as one of hubby’s specialities. What hubby specialises in, I don’t usually like to attempt myself. However, since hubby’s new cricket obsession, newfound man duties in the garden and continued writing drive have seen me in the kitchen more than he, I have taken up the soup mantle. And I LOVE IT. I am actually good at soup making. I had been put off many months ago by hubby calling my attempt too lumpy but now, with two successful soups under my belt, I’m looking forward to working my way through our Covent Garden soup for every day of the year book. Now there will not be a soup per day, only per week. This will surely result in a freezer full of soups by Christmas. 

We started off bottling it into empty water bottles, the big ones. The plastic went a bit melty. You have to lie them down in the fridge. Not great. I may use the new eco-buy less packaging milk jug instead.

Make some soup, it’s a terrifically satisfying way to spend some of your Sunday afternoon.

I recommend New Covent Garden Food Co.’s ‘A soup for Every Day’. Very pleasing book to hold and use.





Sandwiches

2 09 2011

Lunch at home go to

Having not blogged in forever, I have finally reset my lost password in order to recommence my scribblings on my number one pastime, cooking/eating which I’m classing as one activity not two.

During my absense from cookumentary I have sampled the delights of Massachusetts cuisine. I returned to England vowing to make more dinners from sandwiches! I haven’t really stuck to that pledge, but I have adopted grilling sandwiches instead of toasting them. Without a toastie maker one has traditionally had to make do with an open faced sandwich grilled under the grill. No more. Grilling boh sides in a frying pan is the new deal.

The trick is butter, enough of it spread on each outer side; a HOT pan; perfect timing. Cook to just before the bread burns to ensure melted cheese within.

How to make this tuna cheese melt, well forget tuna mayo. It’s all about tuna mixed with creme fraiche, lemon juice and well seasoned. Much much tastier than it’s mayoey brethren.

Check out earlier post on croque monsieur for joint fave sandwich of all time.

Leftovers fave

Possibly even more enjoyable than the roast itself is the leftover roast meat sandwiches a day or two afterwards. Pictured here we have a simply roast chicken – to achieve best result, baste baste baste! and nix the fan oven option.

Serve with fresh cut tiger bread, buttered or slathered with the gellified pan juices ( or cold thick gravy). Honestly it’s the best taste and as it already contains butter, no need for extra on the bread. Meaty meaty goodness. Of course you could add salad or crisps to the sandwich but why mess with perfection?

BBQ sandwich

This next one shows that BBQ doesn’t just mean burgers. We cooked off some leftover sausages wrapped in leftover prosciutto and added these to lightly toasted buns. One the side – barbequed vegetable kebabs. I call them kebabs, they are cooked on skewers. I baste with garlic butter, or a pesto oil. We tend to use peppers, mushroom, red onion, tomatoes for the kebabs.

Now the toppings – I recently gave in to hubby’s lusting after gherkins. So now we have a jar of them in the fridge. I like them, the taste. But I don’t want to sink my teeth in. And the fact that they’re pickled?! Ugh! I opted for mustard and creme fraiche, leaving the gherkins to himself. I do fancy making my own gherkin mayo/gherkin chutney. I want that taste on my burgers! Watch this space.

PS. Thanks Earl of Sandwich