Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas pudding and apple strudel


An excellent way to use up any leftover Christmas pudding. Although, to be honest, I don't understand why there are so many recipes for leftover Christmas pudding - why would you not finish the whole thing? I absolutely love Christmas pudding. I actually bought one especially for this, and for the Christmas pudding ice cream of a week ago, because I wanted to try it out in some recipes. This is a particularly nice creation, and the most successful strudel I have ever made, in that it wasn't absolutely enormous and thus impossible to slice, and hardly any filling leaked out of the gaps in the pastry.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Ham braised in apple juice


Traditionally, we have a ham at Christmas. Usually cooked on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, it furnishes us with lots of lovely cold sliced meat to accompany the myriad pickles and preserves we receive over the festive period. I am no exception: this Christmas I have personally received five different chutneys. Last Christmas I received seven different chutneys. Needless to say, there is a lot of chutney in my fridge demanding my consumption. A large ham is a good thing to have. We normally roast the ham - last year we did it with a lovely marmalade and five-spice glaze - but this year I thought I'd try braising it, to see if it resulted in a more moist, juicy ham. It did - it was a pleasure to eat all on its own, though even better with leftover braised red cabbage from the Christmas roast and - needless to say - chutney.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Lobster risotto


The perfect Christmas Eve dinner. Champagne, candles, and a lobster risotto. Luxurious, yet not too heavy considering the epic feast awaiting the next day. In fact, not even that luxurious, given that the lobster cost a fiver. Who'd have thought you could find a whole cooked lobster, frozen in a bag of saltwater, in the supermarket? Admittedly, this was Lidl, a treasure-trove of the weird and wonderful; I picked up a tin of something called "musky octopus" from there once. Anticipating that a single lobster probably would not suffice on its own to feed my entire family, I decided risotto would be a good way to stretch it out a bit, without overpowering its delicate flavour (which, for those of you who haven't tried lobster, is wonderful - meaty yet sweet and delicate, a bit like crab but more substantial).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Golden quince with Christmas pudding ice cream


Another take on the poached pear and mince pie ice cream from a couple of weeks ago, but this time I made the ice cream from scratch, to a recipe of my own invention. I was, I have to say, incredibly impressed with myself. It is amazing. It is, essentially, just like eating Christmas pudding with ice cream, but without the faff of taking a spoon full of pudding and then a spoon full of ice cream. I infused the cream mixture with orange, which is I think what makes it so superb. I urge those of you with ice cream makers to attempt this, because words alone cannot describe how delicious it is. The Christmas pudding stays soft in its swaddling of orange cream, which has a much smoother and more luxurious texture than shop-bought ice cream, somehow. 

Monday, 20 December 2010

Cranberry stollen


I've tried baking my own stollen for the last couple of years, and it's never come close to the bought stuff. I don't necessarily mean this in a bad way - the recipe I use is more of a bread than a cake, a bit like a giant hot cross bun with marzipan in the middle (which, as I'm sure you'll agree, is no bad thing). It's nice toasted once it's gone a bit stale, and it's not as sickly as some bought versions. My mum actually prefers it to the version made by Betty's of Harrogate, which is quite an accolade. However, in an attempt to get mine closer to the delicious cakeyness of some versions (in particular, the one made by a German chef I used to work for), I decided to try a new recipe. Clearly there is no one better to turn to than my favourite baker, Dan Lepard, and I have a feeling he may have proved himself yet again.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Pumpkin bread


Fresh from the oven, this bread has the perfect texture. Slightly crisp on the outside, the inside is soft and fluffy, more like a cake than a loaf of bread. In fact, it is somewhere on the dough spectrum between scone and cake (the "dough spectrum", categorising baked goods in terms of softness, running as follows: rye bread - soda bread - sourdough - ciabatta - ordinary loaf - scone - muffin - cake. I have just invented this - perhaps the most useful thing I have done all day). The incorporation of mashed, cooked pumpkin and a nice lot of butter into the dough keeps it deliciously soft and moist in the middle, with an intriguing deep autumnal flavour from the addition of winter herbs.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Apple and potato cakes with smoked mackerel; marmalade panettone pudding


Fruit and fish is not normally a combination I would sanction. However, the rules don't seem to apply where mackerel is concerned. The same goes for sardines. Their oily richness takes very nicely to sharp fruit: sardine and raisin pasta, like I made last week, or the classic mackerel with rhubarb or gooseberry relish. These pancakes are another good pairing: made of grated potato, onion and apple, they provide the perfect pillow on which to lie a coarse mixture of smoked mackerel and horseradish. The apple slices on top provide a juicy sweetness to cut through the sharp fish, though a dollop of apple chutney on top would work very well too.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Blue cheese and bacon risotto with caramelised leeks


If I was only allowed to cook one dish for the rest of my life, I think it would be risotto. Not only is it highly enjoyable to eat, requiring only a fork and a bowl, it's also highly enjoyable to make. Few things are as relaxing as standing by the cooker with a nice glass of wine, and just stirring a pan of rice into creamy, starchy oblivion. It's also one of the most adaptable dishes in any cook's repertoire - I can't really think of anything that doesn't work well in a risotto. Apart from fruit, perhaps. I saw an article in Sainsbury's Magazine once where Antonio Carluccio suggested a chocolate risotto with candied peel and mascarpone. Needless to say, I did not attempt it. There are some things that are just wrong. Plus, I detest rice pudding, and that is essentially what Carluccio, bless him, was suggesting.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Spiced poached pears with mince pie ice cream


I'm a big fan of cookie dough ice cream. I tend to burrow with my spoon through the ice cream itself until it ceases to yield to the pressure; that is the magical point where you know a beautiful nugget of cookie dough is located. Its substantial, grainy sugariness against the melting ice cream is a truly wonderful thing. It seems rude not to attempt this combination of biscuit and cream using one of our most seasonal treats, mince pies. 

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Venison with redcurrants


Similar to the venison with blueberries I cooked a while back, but possibly even better. The redcurrants have a sourness that blueberries lack, and when you bite into a whole one that hasn't collapsed in the heat of the pan, its sweet-sour juice against the iron gameyness of the venison is beautiful. Redcurrants seem to me rather festive right now, even though they're not in season - I picked this lot up at the farmer's market in October and froze them for an occasion such as this. Perhaps it's because the currants look like holly berries with a dusting of ice (courtesy of the freezer), but this to me seems a quintessential pre-Christmas dish. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A study in cranberry


It was actually an accident that both courses of last night's meal ended up containing cranberries. A realisation over the weekend that I still haven't eaten any pheasant this season, combined with the freezing cold weather and a need for something warming and substantial resulted in a trip to the butchers and a brace of pheasant in the shopping bag. I normally pot-roast pheasant with bacon, cider and apples, but thought I'd try a recipe involving red wine and sour cherries. Unable to find any dried sour cherries, I used dried cranberries instead. Dessert, a clementine and cranberry sorbet, arose for more practical reasons: fresh cranberries are half price in the supermarkets at the moment. You can't really get more festive than a sorbet combining two of Christmas's signature ingredients.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Jordans porridge: a review


I was recently given some Jordans porridge to sample. This, to me, was possibly more exciting than being given a bag of white truffles to sample. I am obsessed with porridge; I would happily eat it for every meal if it was considered socially acceptable. I remember trekking around Edinburgh at the Fringe festival two years ago, feeling a 4pm peckishness coming on and desperately craving porridge. Surely, I thought, everywhere must sell porridge all day long around here, it being Scotland and all. I was sadly wrong; the one place I managed to find (after walking for at least two miles in the rain) stopped serving it at 11am. Sure, they had sandwiches and baked potatoes...but there is a certain type of craving that only porridge can sate. I feel that everything is all right in the world when I sit down to my (enormous) morning bowl of steaming porridge, topped with whatever variety of fruit compote I have been organised enough to make in advance, or, if the organisation deserts me, whatever fruit needs eating. I've already posted about some of my favourites, so won't go into it again...though I should mention that chopped pear and blackberries make a wonderful porridge topping (I'm still using up the ones I picked in Yorkshire three months ago).