Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ring Out The Old, Bring In The New

I did promise you a break from my ramblings over Christmas but I can't go cold turkey (geddit???) and not write something.  It's New Years Eve and for the first time in FIFTEEN years, The Hubs is off today.  Most people would mark this momentous occasion by going out for a long healthy walk, perhaps a lunch somewhere in front of an open fire and visiting friends.  Sod that, he yawned.  We'll have a lie on, I'll let you watch Saturday Kitchen without moaning and we'll sofa surf all day.  Well, I'm an obedient wife, so that's precisely what we did.  Actually we went out for dinner last night to The Loft which was lovely - the service is now precision-run by Roz at front of house and the food was delicious.  Afterwards, we went downstairs to the bar where I met up with some old friends, the drinks were flowing and we headed home in merry mood, ready for a day of relaxing.

No Looking Back...

Tonight we'll be at home eating lots of canapes, drinking champagne and having a lovely evening in, remembering people dear to us who sadly left our lives in 2011 and who we will miss greatly.  We'll also be thankful for our health and the great things we did this year - both turning 40 was a bit of a shock to the system, but it was tempered by our dream holiday where we renewed our vows in Vegas & ate some outstanding food, some of which I still have to write about!  It was also a great year workwise after a dreadful 2010 - I started the year in a great contract job where I made some fantastic friends and ended the year in a new and very challenging job which is going to keep me on my toes for the foreseeable future.

2012 for me will be about enjoying what we have and making the most of the experiences that will come our way.  I'm looking forward to finally eating at La Cucina in Limerick, going back to The Tannery with my wonderful girlfriends and hopefully coming up with new recipes to keep you all entertained.  I write this blog because I love doing it and I hope that you continue to read it and most importantly continue to comment like mad because it's no fun without you.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

Aoife x

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Christmas Recipe Roundup

That's it, I'm done cooking for you lot for the year - it's time for me to take a break and put my feet up while mainlining Baileys Biscotti and mince pies.  Real work has also finished so I am going to spend the next week sleeping, reading, watching the tellybox and possible eating and drinking a few choice morsels.  I shall not be getting up at stupid o'clock and spending both hours in the car and the GDP of a small African nation on diesel.  Sadly, the Hubs is working for almost all of the holidays but he is off on Christmas Day for which I am thankful and because I am a nice wife, I am cooking his favourite dinner on Christmas Eve... Chicken and Pea Risotto.  He's a man of simple yet refined tastes!

So, in case you missed any of the recipes, here's a roundup of this and last year's festive food

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Boozy Yule Log

It's time to turn Christmas into an adult affair (steady there, English Mum, don't be getting ideas...) and forget all this nonsense that it's all about the kids.  It's all about the adults who need copious amounts of sugar and booze to get through it all without having a tantrum.  This Yule Log packs a healthy slug of much-needed alcoholic refreshment in both the filling and the icing.  If you don't drink, just leave it out.  If you do, and you don't like what I've used, go mad and improvise.  Either way, you're onto a winner with this sweet treat.

I used the same icing recipe which covered The Hubs' Birthday Cake but added a few tablespoons of Kahlua, tasting as I went, to get the balance right.  The centre of my Yule Log was filled with some more icing and lots of delicious Avonmore Baileys Cream which was part of a hamper which Avonmore sent me for being a runner up in their Cook With Avonmore competition a few weeks ago.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Spectacular Sprouts

With less than a week to go, people are frantically planning their Christmas dinner and half of the country is probably mentally shuddering at the thoughts of rock hard stinky brussels sprouts contaminating their plate of turkey and ham.  My brother in law is a sprouts hater but one year I decided he wasn't going to get his own way and refuse to eat them, so I fried them with pancetta, put them on his plate and kept quiet.  He ate the lot.  That's all the proof I needed to know that if you change the way you cook something, then you can convert the haters.

The trick is to shred the sprouts from the base upwards and then separate them into strands with your hands - they just look like shredded savoy cabbages when you do this.  I also steam or microwave them very briefly, just to par-cook them before adding them to my shallots and pancetta.  Any leftovers can be turned into fantastic bubble and squeak if you have some mashed potato lying around... and we usually have 3 or 4 types of potato with Christmas dinner, so this should be easy enough to sort out!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santa Butter Cookies

I'm in the middle of my Christmas baking and I've been dying to use a 3D Santa shaped cookie cutter I bought a few months ago but I needed a cookie dough that stays really stable when it's baked.  After a bit of experimenting, I think I've got the perfect buttery crunchy biscuit that anybody would love to receive as a Christmas gift..  Don't fret if you haven't got a fancy schmancy cutter like mine - cut out circles or use any cutter that you have - it's how they taste that's most important and this makes delicious cookies.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beef and Winter Vegetable Stew

It has been absolutely freezing recently.  There's nothing like trekking out to the car in your dressing gown to thaw out the thick frost to wake you up in the morning.  Brrrrr...  And it's cold all day so you try to wrap up warm in layers of clothing and then melt when the heat kicks in and you shed items of your wardrobe all over the place (usually a coat, cardigan and scarf on the back of my chair in work).  At mealtimes, all you want is something to take the chill out of your bones and this is where my stew comes in.

It uses a really cheap cut of meat so it won't break the bank, it's jammed full of really filling seasonal root vegetables and it freezes like a dream which is very handy for impromptu lunches and dinners.  Because the meat  is inexpensive, it needs long slow cooking on a low-ish heat.  Don't try to take shortcuts by cooking it quickly on a higher heat because you'll end up with tough, chewy and frankly inedible meat - you need to take the time to cook this meat right down because it turns into meltingly tender chunks of beef with incredible depth of flavour.  Feel free to vary the root vegetables in this stew - I'm not a fan of parsnips, but if you love them, throw a few in. I usually serve this with an extra portion of green vegetables - to add to the five a day - and some lovely mash to soak up the delicious gravy.  I get about 6-7 portions from this quantity so if you want to cook for a big group, double or triple the quantities (use a bigger casserole, of course!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cheese Star Biscuits

I know, the last recipe was stars too but it's Christmas and the perfect excuse to get out all of your fancy cutters and make your food look all pretty.  These are moreish little biscuits for people who prefer to nibble on something savoury during the holidays (like my parents who were the recipients of this box of yummy stuff).  You can mix up your cheeses if you like - I like the contrast between cheddar and parmesan but if you want to go with something else, feel free to use whatever you like, once you stick to a hard cheese that grates well.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Festive Star Bar

I have some friends who are bake-phobic but want to join in with the festive food fun.  This recipe is perfect - all you need is a pot, a hob and a big deep tin.  It's also very flexible once you stick to the basic proportions of chocolate base and extra ingredients.  I know for a fact that one of my more dipsomaniac friends plans to soak her dried cranberries in Cointreau for a more grown-up result (she'll do anything to justify necking liqueurs during the day...).  My one piece of advice if you're going to use flaked almonds is to toast them yourself and not buy them ready toasted - the difference in flavour is unbelievable as they're aromatic and completely delicious.

I know this recipe is good because I brought it into work and it quite literally vanished.  Polite people who thought they would wait before having some were bitterly disappointed.  Luckily I had a spare piece at home so I was able to make somebody tremendously happy...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Three Ways with Stuffing

Christmas is the time to eat your fill of porky products with glazed ham, glossy chipolatas, rashers over your turkey to keep it moist and my most favourite thing of all - stuffing.  I get shivers of horror when I see readymade packets of "stuffing" in the supermarket which are nothing but a container of dusty breadcrumbs with a bit of dried onion and herbs thrown in.  It's so much easier to take 5 minutes and make your own.  Seriously, just 5 minutes.

In the interests of multi-tasking, I've come up with three different ideas to change the basic stuffing mix so you can feed your family, entertain a crowd and make your Christmas dinner delicious.  My one non-negotiable standpoint is that you use good sausagemeat with a really high meat content (75% minimum).  If you can't find sausagemeat, use sausages and just chuck the skins.  The other day I was in a discount frozen food retailer (think Stacey Solomon) where their sausagemeat was only 46% pork - that meant that over half of it was filler.  Would you really want to eat that???

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Snowflake Cake

I'm going to make a shock declaration right now : I don't like Christmas Cake.  I also can't stand Christmas pudding, traditional wedding cake, Dundee Cake, Oxford Loaf or anything filled with dried fruit.  Luckily, The Hubs shares my dislike of such things although both sets of parents think we're crackers.  I only had a tier of fruit cake at our wedding (the tiniest one...) to keep them happy because "it isn't a wedding without a bit of fruit cake".  Rubbish - the Belgian chocolate sponge and lemon madeira tiers were far nicer, I can assure you!

Just because we don't like fruit cake doesn't mean that we can't have a Christmas cake though.  I decided to make a pretty little sparkly iced cake for us to have as a special treat.  This is a lemon madeira cake, covered in  lemon and vanilla buttercream and a soft white fondant icing, and topped with disco-tastic gold and silver snowflakes.

It looks very scary but it's really simple to make.  Here's a few tips... the cake will rise and form a dome when it's cooked.  Trim the top with a serrated knife so it's level then turn it upside down so you have a perfectly flat surface for icing.  Make your buttercream in advance and make sure the butter is as squidgy as possible - the icing sugar combines much more easily.  And use ready rolled icing.  It makes the whole process much easier.  I tend to unroll the sheet and roll it a few mm thinner - you don't have to do this, but I prefer a slightly thinner icing.  If you decide to use glitter sprays, don't wear anything decent - this stuff spreads like wildfire.  Cut your shapes out on the sheet of icing plastic & then spray them.  Let them dry - this takes 15 minutes - before you attempt to put them on the cake.  I also need to clarify that I bought the glitter spray in Sainsburys in Belfast - as far as I'm aware, Dr.Oetker haven't listed it for sale here (sorry to be the bearer of bad news...)