Category Archives: christmas

Chocolate Mousse

This chocolate mousse is beautifully light and incredibly easy to make.  You can make them just before you sit down to eat and leave them to cool slightly in the fridge before serving them for pudding.

By whisking both the egg yolks and the egg whites it helps the mousse become smooth and airy.  When you cut into the mousse you should be able to see a mass of bubbles not dissimilar to an Aero chocolate bar.

The mousse is made using Cointreau giving it a hint of orange. However, if you would prefer to make a non-alcoholic mousse then simply use orange zest in its place.  Alternatively, if you are looking for a plain chocolate mousse that has a festive kick, replace the Cointreau with a little Brandy.

The pudding benefits from being served with a few thin biscuits – for example: Langues de Chat (see recipe).

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Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:  (Serves 4)

  • 100g plain chocolate
  • 2 eggs (separated)
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp cream
  • 1 tbsp Cointreau (for non-alcoholic mousse use the zest of an orange)

Steps:

  1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl.  Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water.
  2. Whilst the chocolate is melting, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, until you have a light and fluffy mixture.
  3. In another bowl whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage.
  4. Once the chocolate has just melted, pour it into the egg yolk mix, and whisk until it is fully incorporated.
  5. Add the cream and the Cointreau (or orange zest) and stir in.
  6. Finally fold in the egg whites a little at a time.
  7. Pour the mousse into the bowl or glasses that you wish to serve in.
  8. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.

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Festive Brussels Sprouts

If there was one vegetable that for me could sum up Christmas it would be the Brussels sprout.  Spouts are a much unloved vegetable; however personally think that they are great.  On Christmas day we eat them plain as there are so many other flavours going on – what with the gammon, goose, roast parsnips, roast potatoes, etc…  However, sometimes it is nice to do them slightly differently.

The recipe below mixes a variety of sweet, nutty and slightly salty flavours which work nicely with the sprouts.  The honey in the recipe acts as a glaze for the vegetables giving everything a pleasant shine.  This recipe could be eaten as a side dish to a grilled chicken breast, lamb chops or a piece of venison as the sweet flavours from the honey and cranberries would complement the gamey taste of the venison very well.

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Festive Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients:

  • 400-500g Brussels sprouts (outer leaves removed and a cross cut into the bottom)
  • 100g lardons
  • ½ red onion (diced)
  • 100g chestnuts (pre-cooked, see chestnut preparation)
  • handful of dried cranberries
  • 1 heaped tbsp honey
  • 25g butter

Steps:

  1. Cook the Brussels sprouts in some salted boiling water for around 7 minutes, to test if they are cooked see if you can insert a knife easily into one of them, then drain. Be careful not to overcook because soggy sprouts are not pleasant!
  2. Whilst the Brussels sprouts are cooking, place the lardons and red onion in a hot frying pan and cook until the onions are soft.
  3. Add the chestnuts, cranberries, honey and butter, stir together.
  4. Once the butter and honey have melted add the Brussels sprouts and mix together.  Serve.

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Turkey lasagne with bacon, broccoli and leeks…

Got leftover turkey? Christmas is fast approaching and there is always the question of what to make with the leftover turkey.  Pies and curries are always a good option but I have been trying to devise something a little bit different and came up with the idea of using festive flavours in a lasagne and I promise you it works well!

The recipe below can be made using cooked or uncooked turkey and you could even substitute the lardons for leftover ham…  The lasagne combines the flavours of a good pie with a creamy white sauce and a delicious cheese topping.    There is no need to follow the recipe absolutely when making this lasagne. If you have other leftover vegetables that you think would work well in it – for example carrots or sweet potatoes – just throw them in and use any leftover gravy in place of the stock cube and water.

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Turkey lasagne with bacon, broccoli and leeks

Ingredients: (Serves 6)

  • 8-10 lasagne sheets

For the meat filling:

  • 300g of turkey breast, cooked or uncooked (cut into slices – if using uncooked turkey, then lightly dust the meat with some seasoned flour)
  • 100g lardons
  • 2 mushrooms (cut into chunks)
  • ¾ heads of broccoli (cut into chunks)
  • 2 small leeks (sliced)
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 100ml water
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

For the white sauce:

  • 1pt milk
  • 30g butter
  • 1 handful of plain flour
  • A pinch of all spice
  • ¼ tsp thyme
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped leeks
  • pepper (for seasoning)

For the topping:

  • 25g hard cheese (e.g. Emmental, Cheddar and/or Red Leicester)

Steps:DSC_0676

Step 1 – prepare the meat filling

  • If you using uncooked turkey, fry it off in a little oil with the lardons and thyme on a medium heat.
  • Add the leeks and mushrooms (if you are using cooked turkey then add it now) – cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • DSC_0677Crumble over the stock cube and season then, add the water then cover and allow to cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the broccoli pieces, remove from the heat and set to one side whilst you make the white sauce.

Step 2 – prepare the cheese sauce

  • Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan.
  • DSC_0679Add the flour and make a thick paste.
  • Slowly add the milk a little at a time, stirring/whisking continuously to avoid lumps.
  • Add the allspice, thyme, leeks and season with pepper.  Continue stirring/whisking until the sauce has thickened.

Step 3 – make up your lasagne

  • Soak the lasagne sheets in warm water for a minute or so.DSC_0681
  • Take a large oven proof dish and make up the lasagne in the following order:

  1. Meat sauce
  2. Lasagne sheets
  3. Meat sauce
  4. Lasagne sheets
  5. Cheese sauce
  6. Topping – scatter over the cheese

Step 4 – cook

  • Place in oven and bake at 180C fan for 25-30 minutes.
  • Serve. 

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Gammon glazed with honey and redcurrant jelly

Gammon is my all-time favourite meat.  We normally only have it at Christmas as an accompaniment to the turkey – I have never really understood this as I would be more than happy to eat just the gammon by itself.  But then I suppose Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a turkey.  We normally buy a huge gammon so that we can enjoy it cold in the days following Christmas in sandwiches, pies etc.

When it was suggested the other day that we get a gammon out of the freezer I was a little bit excited!  I think my favourite bits are the slightly caramelised parts on the outside of the joint and if I am being totally honest the fat (because it becomes so sweet due to the glaze).  Unfortunately these are also the favourite bits for everyone else in the family – so you can imagine the contest to get these morsels at Christmas.

Whilst cooking the joint may take a while it is absolutely worth it because it just melts in your mouth.  The gammon is good either hot or cold, so if you only have time to cook it the day before, do not worry as it will still taste delicious.

Gammon glazed with honey and redcurrant jelly

Ingredients:

  • A boned smoked gammon joint 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • pepper (for seasoning)
  • 3tbsp honey
  • 3tbsp redcurrant jelly

Steps:

1. Soak you gammon in a bowl of water for a couple of hours before cooking.

2. Dry the gammon slightly before placing in a roasting pan with one bay leaf on top and one underneath the joint.

3. Season with some pepper then cover the roasting pan with tin foil.

4.  Cook in an oven at 180C fan for 30 minutes per 500g of gammon (e.g.  2.5kg Gammon = 2 ½ hours cooking).

5. Remove from the oven and remove any string that the gammon may have been cooking in.  Carefully slice off the skin leaving as much fat on the joint as you can.

6. Warm the honey and redcurrant jelly in a saucepan.

7.  Score the fat on the joint in a diamond pattern then spoon over the honey and redcurrant mix.

    

8. Place the gammon back in the oven for a further 30 minutes, basting the joint every 10 minutes with the glaze.  Enjoy!

 

In preparation for Christmas – making and feeding the Christmas cake

This year I have actually got my act together and made my Christmas cake well in advance of Christmas.  I am trying to be very diligent and feed the cake weekly with a local alcohol called Vin de Noix (Walnut Wine) so that the cake is beautifully moist when I eventually cut into it on Christmas Day.

We in fact make the Vin de Noix each year in mid-June using a combination of green walnuts, eau de vie, red wine, sugar, orange and spices.  The resulting drink is quite delicious and smells like Christmas pudding.  I used it last year to soak the fruit in for my Christmas cake and then used it to feed the cake in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The resultant taste was superb.  However, I appreciate that Vin de Noix is not something that everyone can readily lay their hands on, so I would advise you to use whatever you have to hand for example Sherry, Madeira, Brandy or Whisky.

I have in fact made two Christmas cakes this year, one for my grandmother and one for me.  The cakes are not the same as I used what I could find in the store cupboards of each house, so, as an example my grandmother’s cake was made using white sugar which meant her cake was a golden brown colour after cooking.  By contrast I used dark brown sugar in my cake and so I have a cake that is a deep brown colour as you would expect of a rich fruit cake.  The one thing I ensured about both cakes was they were packed full of dried fruit, essential for any Christmas cake.

So for now, both the cakes are wrapped up tightly in tin foil and have been stored away in some old air-tight sweet tins, keeping them fresh between their weekly feeds.  They will remain this way until they are iced in the week before Christmas.  (See icing the Christmas cake).

 

My Christmas Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 wine glass Vin de Noix (or ½ wine glass Brandy, Madeira, Sherry or Whisky)
  • 18oz dried mixed fruit
  • 6oz raisins
  • 6oz currants
  • 6oz sultanas
  • 1½oz mixed peel
  •  4oz glacé cherries
  • 4½oz plain flour
  • 4½oz self-raising flour
  •  1tsp salt
  • 2tsp mixed spice
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 6oz butter (or hard margarine)
  • 6oz dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 heaped tbsp black treacle
  • zest 1 orange
  • 2oz hazelnuts
  • 2oz chopped walnuts

Steps:

1. Place the dried fruit, raisins, sultanas, currants, glacé cherries, mixed peel and Vin de Noix in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave for as long as possible (12hrs minimum, the longer you leave it the better the cake will be).

2. When your fruit is ready make your cake batter.  Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl, then slowly add the eggs being careful that they don’t curdle (if in doubt add a little flour at this stage to stabilise your mixture).

4. Add the flour, spices, salt, zest and treacle to the mix and combine using a large metal spoon.

5. Finally add the nuts and the fruit to the batter and stir well making sure that the fruit is evenly distributed through the batter.

6.  Line a 20cm loose bottomed deep cake tin with baking paper.  Do this by:

  • Cutting out 4 circles the size of the tin, 2 of these will be for the bottom and the other two will be for the top of the cake.  Cut a 1” cross in the centre of the two circles to be used for the top of the cake.
  • Cut a long piece of baking paper big enough to go around the outside of the tin, fold it in half lengthways.   On one edge make a crease (roughly an 1”) then make cuts every inch up to the crease (this will allow the paper to fit far better into the tin).

  • Place the long piece of baking paper in the tin first, so that the cuts in the paper lie smoothly on the bottom of the tin.  Fill the cake tin with the batter, push it down gently, then place the two circles of the baking paper with the cross over the batter.
  • Finally, take a large piece of brown parcel paper, fold it in half lengthways and wrap it around the outside of the tin, tying it in place with a piece of string.

7.  Place the cake in the oven and cook at 150C fan for 3 -3 ½ hours (or until a skewer comes out clean).

8.  Remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool completely, before feeding with 1tbsp of Vin de Noix, then wrap tightly in tin foil and place in an airtight container.

9.  Continue to feed the cake once a week with 1 tbsp of Vin de Noix up until it is iced.

My take on Panettone

 

This follows on from a blog that I wrote last week when I mentioned that I had asked our friends who live up on ‘the mountain’ if I could cook in their wood fired oven at the weekend after they had made their own bread.  Thankfully, their answer was positive but there was one condition – I had to help them prepare their own loaves on Sunday morning – which meant a 5.00am start.  In reality, it actually meant a 3.45am start as I had to make sure my loaves had sufficient time to rise before they went into the bread oven.  All I can say it thank goodness the clocks went back on Sunday!

I decided to make two loaves, one using my white loaf recipe and the other was my take on a Panettone (a Milanese Xmas cake).   It was interesting to see the difference between how my white loaf recipe turns out at home and how it turned out having been cooked in a wood fired oven.  The first thing I should say is normally I would have given the bread an extra 30 minutes to rise, but given the cold temperatures of the weekend I don’t think it would have risen much more.  After baking and cooling I was really interested to see what kind of texture it would have.  Compared to how it normally turns out, the texture was much denser, the crust was fairly soft, but overall it had a good flavour.

 

The Panettone is a new recipe that I have been playing around with over the last week. My first attempt produced a loaf that looked great and had the texture that I was looking for, but, the taste had a lot to be desired.  So after a bit of tweaking I have come up with a recipe with which I am really happy.  I decided that I wanted to bake my Panettone in an actual Panettone mould.  I chatted with a couple of the local bakers and they pointed me in the direction of a professional catering shop (my idea of heaven in a store).  It took A LOT of self-restraint to walk away from the shop having only bought 3 Panettone moulds…  Whilst this wasn’t strictly necessary (I have baked it previously in a loose bottomed deep cake tin and it turned out fine) it was interesting to see whether it would burn in this type of oven as a paper mould had never been tried before.  The mould worked brilliantly and withstood the very high temperature of the oven.

Between drinking copious amount of coffee, I learnt some really valuable skills on Sunday including how to knead and shape a flute and a baguette.  I learnt how to recognise when a bread oven is hot enough (the roof of the oven turns white).  I also came to appreciate how important it is to flour the bread moulds, as a correctly floured mould means the dough easier to get out and equally easier to get into the oven.

Below are some photos from my morning…  (Sadly my hands were so covered with flour I wasn’t able to take any of the kneading and shaping of the dough).

The oven being warmed with a combination of oak and popular logs

 

This photo was taken just after more wood was added to the fire to get the temperature right up.  The smoke was billowing out of the front of the fire and the heat that was being given off was impressive.

   

Once the wood had done its work the embers were scraped out of the oven and into a metal container which was then used to cook chestnuts for a breakfast treat.

   

The bread was then placed into the oven for cooking for anywhere between 35-75 minutes.  Before being taken out, brushed down, ready to be taken away for breakfast.

   

My take on Panettone

Ingredients:

  • 250g type 55 flour (plain flour)
  • 150g type 80 flour (Whole-wheat flour)
  • 50g butter (melted)
  • 200ml milk (warmed slightly)
  • 2 eggs
  • 25g fresh yeast
  • 3tbsp brown sugar
  • 1tsp salt
  • seeds from ½ a vanilla pod
  • 25g mixed peel
  • 100g sultanas
  • 20ml Cointreau
  • zest of ½ an orange
  • zest of a lemon
  • beaten egg (for glazing)

Steps:

1. Place the sultanas, mixed peel and zest of the lemon and orange in bowl, add the Cointreau, stir and then set aside.

2.  Place the flour, salt, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and mix together.

3.  Place the yeast in a bowl, add the milk, butter and eggs and mix together well.

4.  Add the wet mix into the dry mix and combine using your fingers.  The dough will be fairly wet.

5.  Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for a good 10 minutes (you will notice that the texture of the dough will change during this time, once you have finished kneading the dough should spring back after being pressed lightly).

6.  Place the dough into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 1 ½ – 2 hours (until it has doubled in size).

7.  Knock the air out of the dough and add the sultanas, mixed peel and zest of lemon and orange.

8.  Knead the dough until the fruit is evenly distributed. The shape the dough into a ball, place it in the Panettone mould, glaze with a beaten egg and then leave it to rise for the second time (1 ½ – 2 hours).

9.  Place the dough in an oven that you have preheated to 190C fan and cook for 20-25 minutes.  Turn the oven down slightly if you feel it is cooking too quickly and browning too much on the top.   (Note: It takes bread  longer to cook in a wood fired oven, as the temperature of the oven declines as the bread bakes.  It took my Panettone roughly 35-40 minutes to be done.)

10.  Once cooked, leave to cool completely, before serving.  (I think it is always best eaten in slices with a little bit of butter.)

Homemade mincemeat

Well our kitchen certainly smells like Christmas.  The Christmas cake is going to be baked this afternoon so that it can be fed with an (un)healthy quantity booze over the course of the next couple of months before it is iced and presented on Christmas day.  The other thing that I have been making is mincemeat.  I have never made it before, however when I discovered a jar of absolutely delicious home-made mincemeat that had been maturing gently for several years at the back of my grandmother’s store cupboard I felt I really had better give it a go.

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