Monday, 24 December 2012

Floody hell, it's Christmas Eve!

2012: Memorable for the queen's diamond jubilee, the Olympics, The Great British Bake Off and the Christmas floods. All of it overshadowed (in my mind, at least) by My Christmas Cooking Marathon. Loyal followers will know that I have been smugly preparing for weeks, but I have recently been having this recurring nightmare where I am locked in the kitchen for hours at a time cooking, while the hands on the clock turn faster and faster, but the list of jobs barely diminishes. And then I realise that's no dream - it's my really real life.

Pink Christmas decorations and cards
Merry Christmas
If anyone wants me, I'll be lying behind the sofa with an empty bottle of cooking sherry...

With best wishes for a salmonella-free Christmas.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Feast your mince pies on these

I'm not the biggest fan of mince pies, but these have the most delicious pastry - like shortbread - which just melts in your mouth. You can't roll it out in the normal way; instead it has to be manipulated, but this is very easy (especially if you enlist some child labour). They are supposed to look rustic, for homespun appeal. The recipe comes from the Good Food website, where they have 265 five star ratings.

A home made mince pie cut in half
Mince pies

Mince pies

225g cold butter
350g plain flour
100g caster sugar
280g mincemeat
1 small egg, beaten

This will make about 18

Pre-heat oven to 200/gas 6. Whizz the butter and flour together in a food processor, then add the sugar. Add a small amount of the beaten egg - a couple of teaspoons - and keep the motor running until the mixture forms a dough (I had to use my hands a bit at the end). Now take a piece of dough about the same size as a walnut and press it into one of the holes in your bun tin. Fill with mincemeat. To make the lids, start with a marble size piece of dough, pat it out in your hands to form a round lid and lie it on top of the mincemeat. Glaze with egg and bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Leave them in the tin to cool for about 5 minutes before removing. Dust with icing sugar when cool. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Oh yes you can!

Roast potatoes: For some, the most important element of the feast. You can get ahead by par-boiling your potatoes and freezing them now, freeing up hob space and saving your Christmas manicure from the peeler.

Fluffy, par-boiled potatoes ready to be frozen before roasting
Ready for roasting

Perfect make-ahead roast potatoes

Bring the potatoes to the boil and let them bubble away for about 7-10 minutes until the centres are still firm but the outsides are getting soft, before draining and shaking them to rough up their edges. Then open freeze them (on baking trays, covered in plastic), before bagging them up. You can cook them straight from frozen, but allow an extra 15 minutes' cooking time. Put them into the hot fat of your choice at 200/gas 6 and cook for about 60-90 minutes depending on size and whether or not you defrosted them first. Turn them once during cooking.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Brandy butter

I think I might have added too much brandy to my brandy butter. But by the time the brandy butter is needed, the cook needs brandy. She has burned her fingers on all manner of hot dishes, steamed open her pores over the boiling vegetables, cried salty tears into the gravy and pulled crackers with gusto while her varicose veins throb silently under the table. Although the cook doesn't clear up, she has to oversee the clearing up, otherwise all leftovers will be thrown away and there will be nothing to eat for the next week. She then has to round everyone up and back to the table and carry a flaming pudding, risking hair, eyebrows and textiles. When the fire goes out, at least half of the diners will say "I don't really like Christmas pudding"...

Brandy butter in a glass bowl with holly leaf and berry decoration
Brandy butter

Brandy butter

Make yours now and keep it in the fridge until Christmas day. It's really very simple. For 8 people, beat together 6oz (175g) butter at room temperature and 6oz (175g) sugar until fluffy. Then add 5 tablespoons of brandy, one at a time. Substitute rum for brandy if you like; use salted or unsalted butter, and any kind of sugar. I used salted butter and unbleached caster sugar. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Show me a bored housewife who says she doesn't like to spend an afternoon playing with balls, and I'll show you a liar... Another tick on the festive 'to do' list and sausagemeat under my fingernails. Whoop whoop!

Uncooked cranberry apple sausagemeat balls
Soon to be frozen balls

Cranberry apple sausagemeat balls

Gather together:

A 450g packet of sausagemeat
An onion
A couple of cloves of garlic, crushed
75g dried cranberries
An apple, grated
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped

Chop the onion finely and fry it in a knob of butter until soft. Add the crushed garlic and cook for another minute. Set aside. Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and add the onion/garlic when cool. Season, then squish everything together and shape into balls of your favourite size. Put them on a baking tray covered with clingfilm in the freezer. When they have frozen solid you can prise them off the tray and bag them up. Remember to defrost them in plenty of time, and bake them in a hot oven (about 200/gas 6) for about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Bready steady go

Two weeks to go! I haven't written a single card yet, but I have made bread sauce today. It's not something I'd want to eat often, but the nutmeg and cloves give it that unmistakable taste of Christmas.

Ingredients for bread sauce
Ingredients for bread sauce

Bread sauce

To make enough for 8, you need:

2 onions
6 cloves
6 peppercorns
4 bay leaves
600ml (1 pint) milk
175g (6oz) fresh white breadcrumbs
300ml (half a pint) single cream
125g (4oz) butter
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons creme fraiche

Cut the onions in half, peel them and put them in a pan with the peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves and milk. Bring it gently to the boil and set aside for about 3 hours. Strain the milk back into the pan over a low heat and add the breadcrumbs gradually, stirring well, until boiling. Simmer for a few minutes or until the sauce thickens. Cool and freeze.

Remember to defrost the sauce in plenty of time, then re-heat it gently in a pan, adding the cream, butter, nutmeg and plenty of seasoning. Stir in the creme fraiche just before serving. I usually miss out the butter, or put half the amount in - you decide.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Gammon style

There's nothing my in-laws like less than a bit of gammon at Christmas - as I discovered a few years ago when I replaced the turkey with a pig. But we are having it again this year, served cold with my cranberry, orange and ginger compote.

Whole marmalade glazed gammon on a plate
Glazed gammon

I had a trial run today - a 6lb (2.75kg) gammon from the local farm which I cooked in ginger beer before glazing it with marmalade, cloves and brown sugar.

Gammon cooked in ginger beer with marmalade glaze

Wash the gammon under some cold water, then put it in a big pan with 3 bottles of ginger beer and enough water to cover it completely. Bring it to the boil, then transfer it - with the hot liquid - into a slow cooker and cook on medium for about 4 hours. (You could carry on cooking it on the hob, but then you would be tied to the house for several hours).  It's cooked when a meat thermometer stabbed into it reads 71 degrees. Take it out of the slow cooker and pre-heat your oven to 220/gas 7. Meanwhile, make the glaze by mixing together 175ml marmalade, 1 tablespoon English mustard, 50g brown sugar and half a teaspoon of ground cloves. Cut off the skin, leaving a layer of fat on the joint. Spoon on the glaze and pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes until it's nicely brown.

You may want to score the fat with a sharp knife to make a diamond lattice pattern and stud it with a few whole cloves before putting on the glaze.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Cheese and leek macaroni cheese

Mealtimes wouldn't be mealtimes in this household without a sneer. I've added a leek to tonight's macaroni cheese which is sure to attract some curled lips and unfavourable comments. It will also give your mac 'n' cheese a bit of colour and a touch of sweetness.

Bowl of macaroni cheese with leeks
I used wholemeal pasta for extra sneers

Cheese and leek macaroni cheese

2oz butter
1½ oz plain flour
About 15 fl oz milk (I used skimmed)
1 leek
8oz pasta
7oz grated cheese
¼ teaspoon English mustard

Cook the pasta. While you're doing that, put the leeks and butter into a pan over a low heat. Cook for about 5 minutes (still low) after the butter has melted, then add the flour and stir well. Pour in the milk, a bit at a time, stirring continuously. When the milk's all in add the cheese, mustard and a few grinds of black pepper and stir some more. Drain and rinse the pasta, and mix it into the sauce. Transfer to an ovenproof dish, sprinkle over another couple of ounces of cheese and stick under a hot grill until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Chocolate fridge cake

It snowed today. I strongly recommend full over-winter hibernation, but if you can't manage that just move less and eat more for the next few months. This is devilishly moreish and will take very little energy to make.

Cross section of a chocolate refrigerator cake on a wooden board
Cross section of chocolate fridge cake

Chocolate fridge cake

125g Digestives
75g milk chocolate
75g dark chocolate
50g butter
75g golden syrup
75g sultanas
50g glace cherries

Line a 7" circular cake tin with cling film. Put the biscuits into a plastic bag and bash them gently with a rolling pin. Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then add the biscuits and dried fruit. Spoon it all into the tin, smoothing it down with the back of a fork, and let it cool a bit. Then put it into the fridge for an hour or two (or into the freezer for about half an hour) before turning it out and removing the clingfilm.

You can also incorporate 30g or so of nuts (pecans or walnuts), Maltesers, or substitute other dried fruit etc according to your preferences.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Pigs in blankets

Hot dog in burger bun Christmas tree decoration
Seasonal sausages

Part 3 of my cook ahead for Christmas campaign involves spending time wrapping pigs in blankets. Yes, take one piece of fatty meat-stuff and wrap it in another piece of fatty meat-stuff like so:

Sausages wrapped in bacon before cooking
Pigs in blankets
It doesn't take very long and doesn't involve any cooking. Use any type of bacon and chipolata. Freeze them, covered, on trays. When frozen, chip them off the trays and put them into freezer bags or boxes for easier storage.