Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas 2013

My first crack at a proper Christmas dinner :)

I decided on pork as I love crackling, so I ordered a roast from the local butcher as I know their meat is far better quality than the supermarket's. I didn't specify what cut but it looked like loin and there was plenty of it (I ordered for "3-4 plus leftovers") so I cut the smaller end off and it's in the freezer for another week.

Good old Delia came up trumps for a recipe: roast pork with crackling. All I had to do was dry the skin and salt it, and place the meat on a topped, tailed and halved onion. I adjusted the oven temperatures down slightly for our fan oven, and did 25 mins at 220° and then another 2h at 180°. This was a bit of a mistake as I calculated the time on the original weight and not after I'd cut a bit off. Still, the pork was well done rather than overcooked, with perfect crackling and very tender meat.

What did perhaps suffer a bit was the meat juices. Although they were supposed to go to make gravy, it was entirely fat in the tin. I poured it off, and what was left was very dark - not tempting crusty bits so much as blackened. The outer layers of the onion had also burned, so I binned those before deglazing the pan with cider and making up gravy with that, stock (~150ml each) and flour (1 tbsp plain), with water to taste later - there was a definite dark tang to it but I had no other means to make gravy so had to make it work! Straining the finished product removed the onion bits before serving, and the verdict was fairly good but by no means perfect.

Of course, it's not just the meat - alongside it we had apricot stuffing, roast potatoes, red cabbage, brussels sprouts and parsnips. Oh, and sausages in bacon, but they negate the point about the meat :)

Apricot stuffing: a fairly random recipe pick, it's American style stuffing involving an onion and 2 cloves garlic, cooked in butter with thyme, then adding chopped dried apricots, bread, and cream. It turned out rather sweet, and a dash of worcester sauce evened it out. Next time I'd use the suggested variation of subbing some of the cream for stock as it was quite rich.

Potatoes: large King Edwards, parboiled (or rather boiled, since I forgot them) and then tossed about a bit in vegetable oil and a dash of salt, and roasted in the oven for a good 30 minutes.

Red cabbage: braised with cider and apples. I used 600g cabbage, made necessity-based substitutions of a bramley apple, white wine vinegar, and tangerines, and used half of all the other ingredients except the sugar which I reduced a bit further. An hour's cooking time was fine.

Brussels sprouts: peeled, halved, and stir fried/braised with streaky bacon trimmings from the sausages in bacon. Several splashes of water, and a lid on the pan, kept things moist and helped them to steam as well as fry in about 20 minutes.

Parsnips: peeled, chopped, roasted in oil, honey and wholegrain mustard with a dash of black pepper. I didn't really roast them for long enough, so next time would pop them in for 45 mins to an hour.

Dessert wasn't my responsibility, so that's it for this year :)

Friday, 20 December 2013

More Christmassy goodies

I'm not a big one for "stuff" (ornaments, keepsakes and that sort of thing) and consequently have no eye whatsoever for what "stuff" (if any) might appeal to other people. This, along with the fact I enjoy cooking and baking, means I tend to gravitate towards food gifts for Christmas. I've blogged Christmas Spice Cookies and white chocolate and cranberry cookies before, so here are some other recipes I've used  more recently.

Pretzel bites (pictured, right) are ridiculously easy and almost as ridiculously moreish, if you are into the sweet-salty thing. The verdict from my brother and his clan was that the bag barely made it home! The basics are:

150g salted pretzels, broken but not crushed to smithereens.
250g chocolate - white, dark, plain, any flavour you like
50-75g 'extras' - dried fruit or other goodies.

Melt the chocolate and stir in the pretzels and any other goodies. Dollop into bite-size mounds on foil, clingfilm or a silicon cookie mat, and refrigerate until set.

The original recipe uses white chocolate and sultanas, which I then varied to white chocolate and dried cranberries for extra Christmassy pep. Candied peel would also work, I think. This year's variation is dark mint chocolate (I used Green & Black's), and crushed candy canes sprinkled on top of the bites before they set. I will say that candy canes, if they are of the chewy variety, are harder to smash than you think! I conceded defeat with the rolling pin and had to blitz the last few big bits.

Peppermint creams are an old favourite - this recipe was good but a bit wetter than ideal. Given that just a little more or less liquid can really make a difference to icing sugar I'm surprised at the use of the naturally variable amounts of egg white and lemon in the recipe. Next time I'll measure, and not add all the lemon at once. I'd also hold back just a bit on the mint, as it was more extra-strong than candy cane!

1 free-range egg white
½ lemon, juice only
1 tsp peppermint flavouring
425g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
(optional - tiny drop of food colouring if you want)
175 dark chocolate, for dipping/piping

Whisk egg white to stiff peaks and fold in everything else except the chocolate. Work until smooth on a surface dusted with sugar - if you want to use colour for only part of the mixture, divide it here and work in the colour to one half. Roll out to pound coin thickness and use cutters of your choice to cut out shapes, then chill until set. Melt the chocolate and dip, pipe, drizzle, or use some other inventive method to get it on the creams.

The Rocky Road to Christmas Excess (pictured above, left) - adapted from this Nigella recipe. Like a normal Rocky Road, but with festive goodies. Indulgent, and serves several people as a present since it's so rich it's able to be cut into very small pieces!

400g dark chocolate - I used 200g plain and 200g of Green & Black's Maya Gold
175g butter
4tbsp golden syrup
Moderate handfuls of Christmassy inclusions - I used:
Gingerbread pieces (mix of lumps/crumbs)
Shortbread pieces (ditto)
Mini marshmallows
Glace cherries (halved or whole)
Candied peel
Sultanas soaked overnight in Cointreau (sherry, brandy, whatever... or tea for a non-alcoholic option)

Nigella says you can melt the chocolate directly over a gentle heat with the butter and syrup, but I don't trust my electric hob to be gentle so I used the double boiler method for the chocolate and stirred in the separately-melted-then-cooled-a-bit butter and syrup. Then add that mix to the goodies in a mixing bowl, and stir gently until well combined (the marshmallows will melt and mix in if you are too rough). Pour into a clingfilm-lined deep tray and refrigerate overnight. Turn out, chop into bite-size cubes and dust with icing sugar and maybe edible glitter or lustre if you're feeling sparkly.