Things I cooked over Christmas

I made some cocktails for gifts before we broke up.

Chocolate orange martini: chocolate liqueur and triple sec with vodka in a 1:1:2 ratio.

Nigella’s Christmas martini: chambord and creme de cacao blanc and vodka, again 1:1:2

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Some of my friends also got tasters of my vintage elderflower gin – this was originally a mistake because I steeped elderflowers from my garden for far too long and the gin took on a very bitter taste. But later I added a lot of sugar, and over the 8 years or so it’s been on the shelf, it almost took on a Parma violet note. This is pretty much all gone now.

Also crab apple vodka. The old way of making this was to clean and halve crab apples then leave them in a jar with vodka for a couple of weeks until the sugar is dissolved and the vodka has gone a pinker a colour. Now I’m experimenting with making a sugar syrup by boiling the crab apples with water and sugar and simply adding that to the vodka. The best version I think comes from a mix: some crab apples in a jar with vodka and no sugar, some in a syrup, mix all together into final bottle.

Before we broke up I made some speculoos fudge out of Lotus spread – but couldn’t find last year’s recipe. This recipe is the one I don’t recommend. Jane’s patisserie version is much better and I think it’s the one I used last year.

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It’s great to start the festive season with a big batch of fudge… you have something in the fridge that can be turned into gifts to take with you or buffet contributions or feeding unexpected gifts. It keeps a couple of weeks, provided you don’t eat it.

The first Saturday of the holidays found me in front of Saturday Kitchen where I saw a recipe for mulled wine chocolate truffles, similar to this one from Waitrose.  If you are mulling wine anyway, just reserve a glass, otherwise the recipe gets you to make mulled wine especially. Looks like this technique could be easily adapted to getting other flavours into other chocolates… how about espresso into milk chocolate or mulled cider into white chocolate or …  Just as with the fudge you can make the ganache and leave that in the fridge to turn into truffles whenever you need them. And rolling ganache into truffles is a good activity to get children and non-cooking boyfriends involved in too.

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I had my friends and godkids over before Christmas for fondue, ham sandwiches, my own banana cake, and this “next level poke cake” – purely because I love the coffee flavour and don’t make enough coffee cakes.  I borrowed the key to church and we roamed all around it, including climbing the tower and looking at the bells, and we all ended up at the carol service, which was delightful.

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For Christmas day (I deliberately spent it on my own and had a lovely time) I roasted a chicken, with loads of roast potatoes, carrots. I repurposed leftover fondue as cauliflower cheese and made this strange Jamie Oliver red cabbage recipe with tinned pears and chorizo. It was nice enough but the ingredients did not really blend together at all. It fed me on Christmas day, did two of us on Boxing Day and there was plenty of chicken left to make a huge risotto much later in the break (after a long facebook thread about whether it was safe to eat roast chicken a week after cooking. No ill effects, but be careful out there!)

To Scotland I took the remainder of the fudge and truffles and made again a version of this very forgiving peanut and Crunchie bar rocky road recipe, which went down well.

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Yesterday, for pudding club, I made a fridge cake from a fridge cake recipe book, amended slightly but a super simple idea: melt 400 grams milk chocolate, add 300ml of double cream, tinned pears, chopped, and a pack of shortbread biscuits, also chopped. Fridge for a couple of hours in a cling-film lined 1lb loaf tin. Then whip together cream cheese, another pot of double cream and a little sugar (vanilla sugar adds awesomeness) turn out the chocolate loaf onto a cake plate and slather the cream on the outside. Grate chocolate over the top, because if it’s not garnished, it’s not finished.

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Three pudding club eats

 

 

Three recipes cooked for pudding club so far in 2018, none of them blogged! #thehorror

At the start of the year, I was very taken with the new  Mary Berry TV series and there were a few things I wanted to cook. Her truffle chocolate pots looked super – a chocolate mousse with some of the mousse reserved and magicked into truffles to put on top. The recipe and her photos are here.

The mousse component was fine.  I mean, sure, it’s a faffy way of getting a food processor dirty to make a mousse – previously I have whisked the egg whites and folded into melted chocolate + yolks instead, but that’s not entirely safe if you might be feeding the immunosuppressed.

But the recipe for the truffles on top just didn’t work.

For starters the centres were incredibly sticky and refused to be rolled without extreme fridging and adding in extra icing sugar and cocoa.

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

And then just dipping them in molten white chocolate to get a shell…

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Really, you need to temper chocolate to make it do that. And that’s nowhere in the recipe.

The final pot was delicious, but I totally failed to make it pretty. (Story of my cooking!)

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

For my next triumph, I made a chocolate cake in a frying pan!

No, I can’t remember why, either, but it was quite nice. The recipe had an interesting frosting and some interesting questions about American recipes. What is “Dutch” cocoa for example? We thought it was probably something to do with the difference between what we in the UK would call cocoa and drinking chocolate. I just used Bourneville. To make matters worse, the frosting calls for quality milk chocolate and I just used Dairy Milk. You could taste that it was Dairy Milk in the finished article and although we all knew that was bad, it turned out to be quite a nostalgic flavour for us all.

I also forgot to take any pictures, apparently…?

For our most recent outing to Pudding Club, my hosts provided this awesome Baked Alaska as the pudding, so I made the main course for a change.

Baked alaska awesomeness

I had previously halved the ingredients and just done the chicken component of Nigella’s Chicken Shawarma as a midweek supper; but this time, I bought everything needed for  the sides as well, including things that didn’t sound like I would especially like them… pomegranate seed bejewelled tahini flavoured yoghurt? But it turned out lovely, actually.

The chicken by itself had garnered a “you can make that again”, and it is fantastic, really delicious. The marinade is not hard, but it does have quite a lot of ingredients, and ideally you need to do it the day before. Getting the seeds out of the pomegranate is fun. Whack! whack!  Now, what to do with the rest of the jar of tahini?!  (Quick google, and these catch my eye: cookies, salmon, lamb, peanut hummus!)

This paprika smells wonderful and I am looking for excuses to cook more with it:

Nigella chicken shawarma

There’s lots of ingredients for the marinade but nothing is actually difficult. I left the coriander out because I don’t like it (tastes soapy to me) and so don’t have any.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Overnight in fridge

Nigella chicken shawarma

Hot oven for 30 minutes, then serve on a bed of lettuce and drizzle over the oily juices.  Unless you are, as Nigella says, for some inexplicable reason, anti-oily-juices.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Serve with salad and a pomegranate/yoghurt/tahini dip.

Nigella chicken shawarma

 

 

Ringers’ dinner II

Last weekend I threw the house open to the lovely people in my tower for our now annual Christmas social. We initially decided we ought to have a Christmas social but that everyone’s diary in December is too hectic, so we have ours in February instead.

I like cooking for people and having people in my house but I actually don’t do it very often, so it’s nice to have an excuse.

Ringers' supper 2018

(Laid the table before counting properly AGAIN! and had to put an extra place setting in at the last minute.)

I thought that the menu had not evolved much from last year, but looking back it seems I did simplify quite a bit.  I did the mulled apple juice again and offered some of the crab apple vodka to those who were both not driving and suitably aged.

Ringers' supper 2018

It’s been cold this year, so I didn’t want to do cold starters and desserts again, and so went for a slightly ambitious three cooked courses.  Crudités were still the main feature of the starter, then I was initially thinking fondue… but it would be hard to put the pot where everyone could reach it, so went for two separate baked camemberts so that each half of the table could reach. I was planning for 8 but one of us was ill on the night and we were 7 instead.  Two vegetarians amongst our numbers and I was conscious that anything properly called camembert is by AOC definition not vegetarian, so there was some hummus available instead.

The mains as last year were baked potatoes with beans, cheese (veggie cheddar), sausages and Quorn sausages and homemade coleslaw.

I actually took hardly any photos this year, but I did take quite a lot of the dessert. I was making Simon Hopkinson’s sticky toffee pudding – I blogged about it before in 2013 and the recipe is still on the BBC, and it’s still decadent and delicious. The basic recipe says serves 4, and the only way that is true is if you don’t eat anything else for an entire weekend.  I still doubled it and cooked it in a disposable foil roasting tin for a dessert that fed 7 people on the night, did doggy bags to take for absent partners, fed my neighbours who liked the photo on Facebook, and did me and T the following day.  I still have spare ingredients and I’m making it again today for half term pudding club tomorrow 🙂

In its doubled up form you end up needing to buy over a litre of cream!

Ringers' supper 2018

The basic date sponge cooked the night before.

Ringers' supper 2018

With the first sticky toffee sauce poured over the top then put back under the grill.

Ringers' supper 2018

Loads of leftovers!

I also made fudge – this Nigella recipe ish. There weren’t shelled pistachios available when I went shopping and I didn’t fancy shelling 150 grams myself, so I just used chopped hazelnuts. And glacé cherries, because why not?  And then, having made fudge, and having been given two boxes of After Eights… I forgot to bring either of them out with the tea and coffee! So there were loads leftover which made nice end of term gifts at school for colleagues instead as well as satisfying my own chocolate craving whenever I walk past the fridge.

Ringers' supper 2018

 

 

A very Jamie dinner party

I really enjoyed Jamie Oliver’s recent series of five ingredient, easy to cook food. I’ve made loads of the things from the show, but some of the recipes called for larger quantities and feeding a crowd – so I decided to invite some friends around just so I could cook the food and try to get them to drink some of the weirder things from the liquor shelf that have been hanging around for a while.

No starter for once, just nibbles and some of the last of the basil wine, which for all its worrying in the fermentation stage has actually ended up delicious.

The main was slow cooked lamb – almost a tagine, with its ras-el-hanout and preserved lemons and an unorthodox and worrying way of cooking chick peas which seemed to work out OK.

You do wonder, with the limiting yourself to 5 ingredients, if it would have been a little better with 6 or maybe 7?  Cooking lamb without garlic?  In the final dish, the flavour of the ras-el-hanout and preserved lemons don’t come through particularly well. I wonder if this would work in the slow cooker?  The recipe calls for a 2kg lamb shoulder for 8 servings – I was feeding four, and Sainsburys only had a joint slightly over 1kg and it just about went far enough. I didn’t reduce the other ingredients at all, so have ended up with massively more lamby chickpeas than anyone can use!

Final lamb with fattened chickpeas

I wasn’t sure if the one-pot would enough to feed us all by itself, so made a side of small hasselback potatoes. I’m glad I did as they were delicious, and a good avenue for garlic and salt.

Main in serving plates - lamb, hasselback potatoes, chickpeas and tomatoes

The dessert was frozen banoffee cheesecake, moderated from the original. I used half the ingredients and made it in a 1L  / 1lb loaf tin. There was enough leftover mix to make a few ramekins as well so those can stay in the freezer till an appropriate time.  The idea of piling the chopped chocolate on the top is brilliant – it looks pretty rough and ready straight out of the freezer and slightly clumsy greaseproof lining left it misshapen as the grease creases ate into the sides. But the extremely simple garnish, a work of 90 seconds, made it look awesome and it got a nice ooh! as I brought it to the table.

Frozen banoffee cheesecake

I do like to try and do some chocolatey things – nibbles for the digestif as well as the aperitif – so I had made white chocolate salami and homemade after eight mints.  Both straight forward to make, but slightly trickier to slice!

White chocolate salami and home made after eights

In all one of the least stressy dinner parties I’ve ever done. The dessert and chocs were finished two days ahead in just over an hour; the main went on seven hours before the start time and essentially looked after itself, as well as making the house smell awesome after the first few hours. Some very enjoyable cooking and company.

More photos on flickr here.

Banana loaf recipe – with pictures

The way I make my banana loaf has evolved a little since I first wrote about it, so I thought I would update my recipe. With pictures!

Banana cake steps

I don’t have scales at the moment, so everything is judged by eye. Break two eggs into the big blender cup.

Banana cake steps

Add roughly the same volume of vegetable oil

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And roughly the same volume of sugar. I’m using dark brown sugar because it makes the resulting taste caramelly and toffeeey and delicious.

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Add two bananas and a heaped teaspoon of ground mixed spice. You can also add any other fruit and veg you want at this point. I’ve put a carrot in this time – topped and tailed, cut into smaller pieces, but no need to peel. I often put an apple in too.

You can make other sorts of cake with the same base – I’ve made a pear and chocolate cake this way – add a heaped tablespoon of cocoa instead of the spice. You can also add cocoa nibs and desiccated coconut at the later stage.

I am usually doing this to use up extremely ripe bananas that have gone past how I like to eat them as fruit, but today I bought extra bananas specially.

Banana cake steps

Blitz

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Pour into a bowl and add a few handfuls of the sorts of things you like to find in a fruitcake. I’ve used raisins and glacé cherries today. I usually add chopped walnuts but I’ve run out. I’d always prefer sultanas to raisins but they aren’t always available.

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Add enough self raising flour on top to completely cover the mix and stir in with a wooden spoon. You’re aiming for dropping consistency, if you know what that means.

Banana cake steps

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Pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin. Loaf tin liners used to come from Lakeland, but now they are showing up in larger supermarkets too. If you don’t think you’re going to make 40 cakes any time soon, you can also just line it the old fashioned way with plain parchment paper.

Bake in a 170 deg fan oven for around an hour.

Check after 45 minutes to see if it is burning. Stick a knife in it to see if the inside is cooked. If the knife comes out clean, it is cooked. If cake batter sticks to the knife, it is still raw inside.  If the cake looks finished on top, or is starting to catch or burn, cover the cake with tin foil so that the top doesn’t brown further, but so that the inside can catch up.

If you have go out at this point, it can sometimes work to turn the oven off now and let the rest cook in the residual heat.

If not, check the cake again every 10-15 minutes by repeating the knife test.

Banana cake steps

This is an extremely forgiving recipe. You can even make it without the eggs if you want to try for vegan – I tried a dollop of golden syrup instead that time, and it was ok…

Cirque de Navacelles – strange coincidence

Last night I opened a bottle of wine for dinner.

Cirque de Navacelles bottle

I like a nice bottle, who doesn’t, but I don’t actually put a lot of time or effort into choosing what I drink. I send £15 a month on payday to Virgin Wine Bank, they top it up with interest and two or three times a year I have enough to pay for a crate of bottles. I drink them as I feel like it or use them as last minute hostess gifts. I try to get a huge 16 bottle box, which is always delivered by a tiny woman who can heft it to my doorstep far more easily than I can move it around the house. I can be sure that each of the bottles that arrives will be interesting and delicious, but it’s fairly random what turns up.

(If you want a referral to Virgin Wine drop me a line as there’s a friend-get-friend scheme.)

Last night’s bottle had a really irritating typographic design, with all of those letters jumbled up, unclear where the words begin and end, so I insta’d a pic and left it there. There was a bonus opportunity to make a weak, limp, rude bilingual pun, because if you work really hard you can see cir que  as cire queue which are the French words for wax and dick, although of course for it to make sense as a French phrase it would have to be a queue de cire.

A helpful friend who presumably wasn’t up to her eyes in an oven full of classic British Saturday night fare  (we had baked potatoes, Lincolnshire sausages, corn on the cob, carrots and a gravy made with fried onions, mushrooms and a spoon of caramelised red onions from a jar, which barely left any room for an oaty walnutty crumble filled with jumbo apples from the kind neighbours) deduced the phrase in full and posted a link to Cirque de Navacelles which jogged a memory.

I’ve actually been there!

I have also wondered over the years, reviewing the pictures of the awesome six-week round France trip I did after working on the successful campaign to re-elect Paul Holmes in 2005, if I was ever going to work out again where that strange, heart-shaped hollow was.  Somewhere in the south of France, somewhere on my journey from campsites near Canne and Perpignon, I followed a brown sign to something interesting to tourists and found myself overlooking a giant hole in the ground which I photographed and then got back in my car. Places to go, tents to erect, dinner to cook before dark.

Now I know!

Cirque de Navacelles

12 years later and it’s about time for another holiday of a lifetime.

Afternoon tea

Getting the tea set out is something that’s on the list of things I should do more often, so I invited my lovely friends to come over for the bank holiday weekend.

Normal people in this sitch would take photos of the people, I think, but I took photos of the food.

We ate:

Salads you can make with the grating disk in the food processor

  • carottes râpées (I grate carrots, mix with something crunchy, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, sultanas, and then make a dressing out of the juice of half a lemon, olive oil and seasoning)
  • coleslaw (quarter of a cabbage, a carrot and an apple grated, with mayo from a jar, and a spoonful of wholegrain mustard)

Sandwiches

Two loaves from Aldi with a variety of fillings. 3 rounds of sandwiches quartered to make 12 sarnies for 8 guests. V non-u, but I left the crusts on!

  • caramelised onion hummus and grated carrot (reserved some carrot from the salad above) (whole pot of hummus)
  • egg mayonnaise and chives  (5 hardboiled eggs) (I feared these would be unpopular but they went just fine.  Bought a pot of chives and will plant into garden to see if they live!)
  • goat’s cheese and onion jam  (the caramelised red onion jam is one of those jars at the back of the cupboard that was probably left there by ex as I have no recollection of it and it is ahem approaching its sell by, but these sarnies were delicious, and will definitely make again and/or put in packed lunches.  Leave the cheese out for an hour before attempting to spread and I also loosened it a little by beating the cheese with a couple of spoons of mayo)

Cakes

So my aim is something showstoppery for the cake stand, and a variety of nice things for the two tiered plates.  Completely lacking in the time and inspiration for a show stopper (OMG did you even see bake off this week!?) I threw together another of my regular blender cakes and set it atop the cake stand. Oh well.

A few days before I had seen (and eaten!) some beautiful coconut macaroons, topped with cherries with even, chocolate decorations drizzled across – I thought those would be lovely to make and would look great topping a tier, so asked for the recipe and did my best from the resulting photo.  Only… I don’t have a mixer, or working scales at the moment… So I forked out 20 quid in Aldi for something that’s a bit like a mixer  (aargh, it says don’t put in dishwasher!!) to breach the gap and estimated the quantities by googling cup equivalents for the sugar and estimating from the packages – eg 200 grams of desecrated coconut is half the bag…

I think I didn’t beat the eggs enough. I’ve never really got along with meringues, and will have to practise a lot more to see if it’s possible to make in my new mixer or whether it’s just me… But instead of lovely pillowy domes, I got flat discs.

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In the end, I decided to drizzle the chocolate on anyway and brazen it out. As it was, they were delicious.

Afternoon tea(chers)

I also wanted to make Portuguese custard tarts, having just returned from (Portuguese) Madeira where they were everywhere!

I went with this Not Quite Nigella recipe to start with except when reading it through I realised half the instructions were just “make custard” and that’s something I’ve been practising a lot lately as a way of using up egg gluts. The instruction for rolling the pastry seemed properly weird, and I was worried

Both the macaroons and the custard tarts were made the night before – and that ended up with the tarts being slightly too soft by the time they were served. Some of them poked out of their cases a bit much, but lots of them looked good and tasted good too.

Afternoon tea(chers)

Afternoon tea(chers)

I got some lovely gifts from my gracious guests – two fab boxes of chocs which did not last long, and two separate people turned up with sunflowers, which I turned into a huge bouquet which looks absolutely super! Both guests were concerned about showing up at a man’s house with flowers. People rarely bring me flowers, but I love it and was delighted to receive them. They’d both separately thought that sunflowers were sufficiently manly to hand them over.

Afternoon tea(chers)

Here are a couple of other posts about times I’ve used the tea set – as a farewell party for councillors and last year with a vegan twist.

And here’s more photos on flickr.