Thursday, December 30, 2010

What We Ate On Christmas Day...

And it's not what you think!  For the first time in thirteen years, we got to spend Christmas Day home alone - no having to call to all and sundry, no cooking for other people - it was all about us!  So, I asked The Hubs what he would like for Christmas Dinner (yes, it merits capital letters...) and he asked for beef.  So I ordered a 2kg bone-in Rib of Beef from Taylors CraftButchers in Bray - my parents have been buying their meat there for years and it's consistently good.  Despite the heavy snow which cut us off from the outside world for 2 days (and caused us to miss a wedding), I managed to collect it and bring it home intact.  It wasn't cheap - I may have winced when the price of it was called to me - but it was worth it because it tasted sublime.

So, after a lazy lie-in on Christmas morning, The Hubs suggested making some toast for breakfast.  I was horrified - it's the one day we have a really special breakfast... Eggs Benedict.  I do take shortcuts and use ready-made Hollandaise Sauce because I couldn't really be bothered making it from scratch.

Once you have all the components ready, it's really just an assembly job... toasted muffin, smoked ham, soft poached egg & hot hollandaise sauce - all served on a warmed plate, so it doesn't cool down too quickly.

Eventually, I made a start on the dinner preparations - Mustard-rubbed Beef with Hasselback Potatoes, Sprouts with Lardons & Shallots and Buttered Leeks. I also made some absolutely gorgeous gravy, the precious remains of which The Hubs threw down the sink after dinner, which resulted in an almighty meltdown the next day when I found out.

Firstly, I put the oven onto its highest setting (240c/Gas Mark 9), patted the beef dry & coated it in Dijon mustard & lots of freshly ground black pepper.

I halved two onions & put them in the base of a big roasting tin to act as a trivet for the beef.  They also make a superb gravy base.  The beef was roasted for 15 minutes at this temperature, then I turned the oven down to 190c/Gas Mark 5 & let it cook away for 80 minutes, basting occasionally with the juices in the roasting dish.  Then I loosely covered it with foil & let it have a nice little rest while I got on with the rest of the meal.

The sprouts were peeled, trimmed halved & steamed for 3 minutes.  I sauteed 100g of lardons & a handful of thinly diced shallots in a large frying pan until the lardons started to crisp up and added the sprouts, cooking for 2-3 minutes.  I finished them off with some grated lemon zest & a squeeze of lemon juice, just to lift the flavour.

Buttered Leeks are easy - finely shred leeks, melt some butter in a pot.  Add the leeks & some black pepper & allow to sweat away gently for 10-15 minutes.

I've covered Hasselback Potatoes before - ultra easy & they cooked away in the oven underneath the beef.

The starter was a very lazy affair - Coquilles St Jacques using a can of readymade Coquilles which I bought in France on holidays.  I decanted the contents into two ramekins & topped them with parsley breadcrumbs & a knob of butter.  10 minutes in the oven and they were ready!

Oh, and there was some mash too...

My Homemade Food Presents

A few weeks ago, I got myself a new Kenwood Chef and I love it to bits... honestly, sometimes more than I love The Hubs!  It's made my life so much easier when I'm baking - the dough hook made short work of my Spiced Snowflake Cookies, the balloon whisk whipped up a giant batch of Chewy Chocolate Meringues and the K-beater created lots of Luscious Lemon Cake.  So, I decided to bake and make my Christmas gifts this year, which was an inspired decision, given the rotten snowy weather we've had for most of December...

My Food Gift Bag was made up of

Mini loaves of Pear Gingerbread
Shards of Ginger Nougatine
Mini Chocolate Meringues
Spiced Snowflake Cookies

These were wrapped in coloured tissue paper, put into clear presentation bags and then labelled so everybody knew what was inside.

Boozy Glazed Baked Ham

Oh, I had great plans for making lots of delicious dinners over Christmas, so I did.  Then my best-laid plans were foiled, firstly by a nasty virus which hit both myself and The Hubs and then by having no water for almost 4 days.  When you've to boil kettles to fill the sink, you're not really inclined to cook your heart out...

So when the water returned yesterday, I did a little jig of joy because the fridge was packed full of ingredients all waiting to be turned into magnificent meals.  Top of the list was a lovely Horseshoe Ham which I had bought in Aldi the week before - at just over €8.50 for 1.5kg, it was a bargain and I had a plan for it which included three of my favourite things : mustard, honey & booze!

Doing a ham like this is a two-stage process.  Firstly it need to be simmered in a very large pot of water to cook it, then it goes into the oven covered in glaze, to bake it and make it all sticky and delicious.

Boozy Glazed Baked Ham

1 Horseshoe Ham, 1.5kg weight
1 Onion, peeled & quartered
2 Bay Leaves
1 tbsp Peppercorns, lightly cracked

200ml Cider
2 tbsp Mustard
2 tbsp Honey

Put the ham in your largest pot, cover with cold water, add the onion, bay & peppercorns and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat & simmer for 70 minutes (20 mins per 500g & 10 minutes extra).  Remove from the cooking liquid & allow to cool.

Preheat your oven to 200c/Gas Mark 6

Remove the netting from the ham & trim off the rind, leaving a small amount of fat - which you can score with a knife.  Put the ham into a roasting tray.

Spread the mustard over the top of the ham, now drizzle over the honey and finally, pour the cider over the whole lot.

Bake the ham for about 30 minutes, basting frequently with the cider in the bottom of the tin, which will keep the ham really moist and sticky.

Remove from the oven & allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before carving & serving.

Simple Pork, Onion & Herb Baked Stuffing

The best part of Christmas for me isn't the presents, it's the stuffing.  None of your packet mixes (shudder) or ready-made posh stuff for me - I like to make mine from scratch and bake it in the oven.  It tastes phenomenally good and much better than anything you can buy in a shop.

It's also great as a mini canape - just roll the mixture into small balls and bake in the oven : the perfect bite-sized party snack.

I use a mix of fresh herbs which grow in pots on my windowsill - you can change them to suit your own personal taste : add oregano, basil & crushed fennel seeds for a gorgeous Italian stuffing, or go fruity with chopped apricots and rosemary.  I've also stopped adding salt to the mix (as a gesture to The Hubs' reduced-salt diet) and there is absolutely no reduction in taste!

Simple Pork, Onion & Herb Baked Stuffing

450g Pork Sausagemeat
2 large Onions, finely chopped
1 large stick of Celery, finely chopped
100g fresh Breadcrumbs
1 tbsp chopped Parsley
1 tbsp chopped Sage
1 tbsp chopped Thyme
Lots of freshly ground Pepper

Preheat your oven to 200c/Gas Mark 6

Mix all of your ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure the mixture is well combined.

Now pat into a lined baking tin (use greaseproof or baking paper) & bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown on top.  You can use a loaf tin or a square tin - it all depends on your preference.  If you want to make  canapes, bake for about 15 minutes on a baking sheet.

This is absolutely delicious either hot or cold.  I tend to steal bits straight from the oven and then organise a commando raid on the cold leftovers too...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Luscious Lemon Cake with a Starry Icing

This was a test run for my Christmas Gifts bakeathon - it's been a while since I've made this cake but it never fails to taste amazing.  It's technically a traditional madeira but I like to bump up the flavour by using some lemon oil in the mix.  This is equally lovely au naturel for a teatime treat, but I decided to gild it by adding a lemon-flavoured soft royal icing and then scattered lots of edible gold stars on top.  This did make it to work & was demolished in record time!  It works very well either as a loaf or a tray bake - just reduce the cooking time to about 35 minutes for the shallower tin.

I'm planning to make little individual lemon cakes for Christmas - small enough to eat without feeling guilty that you've devoured one all by yourself...

Luscious Lemon Cake with a Starry Icing

225g Butter, softened
225g Caster Sugar
4 Eggs
1 tsp Lemon Oil
Finely grated zest of 1 Lemon
225g Self-Raising Flour

Starry Icing
150g Royal Icing
Juice of 1 Lemon
Edible Gold Stars

Heat your oven to 180c/Gas Mark 4.  Grease & line your cake tin.  Use baking paper for a shallow tin or loaf liners for a 2lb loaf tin.

Beat the butter & sugar together until pale & creamy, then add the eggs one at a time and the lemon oil.

Now sift in the flour & lemon zest and mix until well combined.

Pour the mixture into your tin & level the top with a spoon.

Bake for 30 mins (traybake) or 45mins (loaf tin) until a skewer comes out clean.  Remove from the oven & allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

When the cake is cool, make the royal icing according to the packet directions (beat well with an electric mixer for 5 minutes) & spread over the cake.  Now scatter lots of gold stars over the top before the icing sets.

Lemon & Almond Cake with a Limoncello Glaze - Christmas Cookalong

Apologies for the delay in posting the final recipe from the Christmas Cookalong epic - I've been a little bit distracted of late.  First there was the snow, which stranded me in my parents for almost a week, then there was a choir concert which took up my free time and then finally I ended up sick, which took away all my desire to blog.  Now the snow is back & I'm stranded at home, so it's a perfect time to post up this recipe.

Originally this was an Orange & Lemon Cake from Rachel Allen's Entertaining At Home book, which I was very kindly sent by Harper Collins recently.  As usual, I was missing a vital ingredient.. the oranges, and because of the snow, I had to make an emergency substitution to lemons, as I had some lovely unwaxed ones in my fridge.  I had planned to bring some of the cake into work to share with my colleagues, but it never left the house, as myself and The Hubs demolished it all over the weekend!  It's beautifully moist and the Limoncello glaze gave it an extra zing.  I made this cake in a bundt tin, but it doesn't rise hugely, so I'd recommend making it in a standard 8 inch cake tin instead.

Lemon & Almond Cake with a Limoncello Glaze

100g butter, softened
175g Caster Sugar
3 Eggs
Juice & zest of 1 lemon
50g Plain Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
100g Ground Almonds

75g Icing Sugar
3 tbsp Limoncello *replace with lemon juice for a non-alcoholic version*

Preheat your oven to 180c / Gas Mark 4.  Grease your cake tin & line the base with baking paper

Cream the butter in a large bowl or a food processor until soft.  Now add the sugar & beat until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the lemon juice and finely grated lemon zest.

Finally, fold in the ground almonds, flour & baking powder.

Now pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin & bake for 30-40 minutes until golden.  Make sure you test that it's cooked by inserting a skewer into the middle - if it comes out clean, then the cake is ready.

Meanwhile, make the Limoncello glaze by heating the icing sugar & Limoncello gently together, stirring until completely dissolved.  Pour the glaze over the cooked cake & allow to cool before serving - either at room temperature or cold.