Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ginger bread house

There are loads of ways to do this. I’ve heard that they sell kits, where all you have to do is put it together, and decorate it. Some people make the cookies themselves, but buy ready made icing. However you do it, it’s a really fun activity.

I used a basic gingerbread recipe. The recipe, plus the dimensions of all the parts is a lot of typing, so I’ll say that you can easily find a recipe, and any one is as good as the next I think. I’ll just try to give some tips.

Figure out what parts you need first, and draw them on paper using exact dimensions. Cut out the paper ones, and once you have rolled out the dough, place the paper cut-outs right on the dough so you can trace around them with a sharp knife.

My main advice to you, is make sure that your icing is the right consistency. It has to be so thick that it is almost dough, but stickier. The first batch I made was a little thin, and it took forever for it to set. We had to put the house together, prop it up on all sides (it took all of my ramekins), and leave it till the next day. The second batch was the right thickness, and it held on the chimney and decorations with no muss no fuss no waiting around.

Also, a lot of recipes will tell you that you need a piping bag for the icing, and that’s ideal I suppose, but I’ve never had one. For jobs like this, a zip lock bag (freezer storage bag) works just as well. Just dump all of your icing into the bag, and cut a tiny hole in the corner. Use it as you would a regular piping bag.

Doing this from scratch was way more fun then I thought it would be. I will definitely do it again. Also, it was really tasty. I thought by the time we ate it, it would be stale and hard, but it was really good. Also, fun to tear pieces off the roof and walls.

Right after we finished this, someone directed me to This. A gingerbread K-9 from Dr. Who. How much fun is that? I’m thinking of new and different things that can be made from gingerbread now. I’ll keep you informed when I come up with something good.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Roasted Marmalade Ham

3-4kg middle cut gammon, with the knuckle left on
2 carrots roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
16 black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni (a piece of leek, celery, a bay leaf, a sprig of fresh thyme)
2 oranges
2tbsp sea salt
3tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 jar of best thin rind marmalade
a handful of fresh rosemary, leaves picked

place the gammon in a large snug fitting pot. Cover it with water, then throw in your veg, bay leaves, peppercorns and bouquet garni. Peel the zest from the oranges, and add to the pot, then squeeze in the juice, and add the salt. Bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for an hour and a quarter, with a lid on, skimming if need be. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for half an hour in the broth. This will allow the flavors to really penetrate the meat. Discard the vegetables from the broth, but keep the broth for making soup – it will freeze well for use another day.

Preheat the oven to 170c. Carefully remove the meat to a board, and using a knife, take off the skin. Remove some of the fat, leaving about ½ inch. Score in criss-cross fashion, and while it is moist, season it generously with the black pepper. Place in a roasting try and roast for 20 minutes, until the fat renders and becomes slightly crispy. Remove from the oven, stir up the marmalade to loosen it , then smear and rub it all over the meat with the rosemary. Place back in the oven for about 1 hour, and baste frequently until beautifully golden and crisp.

I was looking around for a good Christmas recipe. I thought about making a goose, or a turkey, but they were prohibitively expensive. It was going to cost about 30 pounds or so to get a goose, and a free range turkey was as much or more. A ham, however, was right in our price range, and I found this recipe in a Jamie Oliver book.

Way easy if you have the right equipment, and by that I mean an absurdly large pot. That is going to be your biggest obstacle to overcome. I used the biggest one we had, and it just fit. Unfortunately, once it started cooking, it swelled a bit, and was then slightly too big.

I developed an elaborate system to keep all the steam in. It looked like this…

There is a sippy cup lid propping up the top pot, so that the steam doesn’t get trapped in there.

Note, this could all have been avoided if I had made sure to get a ham the right size for the pot.

Other then that, this was really easy. It takes a long time, but it’s not terribly complicated, and the end result is gorgeous. The pepper mellows a lot, I’m not sure if that is because of the fat or the marmalade, but there is no overpowering pepper flavor to it. The marmalade glaze was incredible. The little bits of glazed cooked fat were impossible to resist.

Good ham!

If you have a large group of people to feed, I highly recommend this. If there are only a few of you, you’d better have a lot of ideas for leftover ham.

Chestnut Bacon and Cranberry Stuffing

100g dried Cranberries
50ml ruby port
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 rashers unsmoked back bacon, cut into strips
50g butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped
450g good quality sausage meat
140g fresh white or brown breadcrumbs
2tbsp chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
140g peeled cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to season.

Soak the cranberries in the port for an hour. Fry the onion and bacon gently in the butter, until the onion is tender, and the bacon is cooked. Add the garlic and fry for another minute or so.
Remove from heat and cool, then mix with the remaining ingredients, including the cranberries and port, adding enough egg to bind – hands are easiest for this. (To check the seasoning fry a knob of stuffing in a little butter, taste and adjust if necessary.)
Use to stuff the neck end of a turkey, or shape into 1&1/2 inch round balls. To cook the stuffing balls, half an hour before the end of the turkey’s cooking time, put them into the tin around the turkey, or cook them in a separate oiled tin.

I got this from 101 Christmas Dishes and I made it to go with Christmas dinner. I’ve always had a bit of thing about British stuffing. It’s very different from American stuffing, and the stuffing was always my all time favorite part of holiday dinners. I decided that this year I was going to open my mind to the concept of British stuffing. I looked into it a bit, and I picked out this recipe. I think it was the port soaked cranberries that put it over the top.

The thing that I realized is that British stuffing is sort of like a cross between stuffing and meatballs, whereas American stuffing is more like a savory bread pudding type food. Nothing wrong with either of those.

This recipe totally and completely changed my mind about this food. I love it. These stuffing balls were so good it was amazing. The cranberries soaked in port were as good as I had hoped, and the chestnuts added such a wonderful flavor and texture.

I thought it was strange that there is no mention in the recipe of what temperature to cook them at. I was a little worried because I was using a fairly low oven for the ham I was making (170c). I left them in for a slightly longer time because of that. It worked out fine. They were perfect and moist and delicious, and I will never say a bad word about British stuffing again.

By the way, I realize that it may be a bit redundant to make pork stuffing to go with a ham, but I had to try it anyway. I couldn’t do a holiday meal with no stuffing.

Chocolate Ginger Cookies

225g butter, softened
85g light soft brown sugar
250g self-raising flour
2Tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate drops, or dark chocolate chopped
50g preserved ginger from a jar, or crystallized ginger roughly chopped.

Butter two large baking sheets, and line with non-stick parchment. Beat he butter and sugar together till pale and creamy.
Stir in the remaining ingredients to make a soft dough. Roll the dough into walnut sized pieces, and space out generously on the baking sheets. Chill for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200c
Bake for 12-15 minutes until light golden – they will still feel quite soft in the middle. Leave on the baking sheet for about 5 min until firm, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

These were ok, but definitely not the best of the batch. The ginger was a nice touch, and they were really easy to make, but there are better ones out there. This one was from 101 Chocolate Treats.

Blackened Pork chops with mango salsa

1tbsp chili powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
2tbsp olive oil
2 thick cut pork chops
1 large mango, diced
2 limes, 1 juiced, 1 halved
1 large tomato, diced
handful of coriander leaves, chopped
Rocket to serve

Mix the chili powder, salt and sugar with the olive oil, and rub on both sides of the chops.
Cook the pork chops for 2 min on each side on a griddle or in a frying pan, then turn down the heat, and cook about 5 minutes more, turning once. Griddle the lime halves till caramelized.
For the salsa, mix the mango, lime juice, tomato and coriander, and season with salt.
Serve with the griddled lime halves, some salsa, and rocket.

So easy and fast. It’s short on cooking time and prep time too. Ideal for last minute, or after work cooking.

I forgot to pick up a tomato, so instead of mango salsa, we really had herbed mango. Still the combination of coriander, lime, and mango, was nothing to scoff at. As a matter of fact, my youngest son had a whole bowl of it.

This was delicious. As always, I cannot resist good pork chops, or the lime and coriander combination, so this was perfect for me. I got it from 101 Global Dishes. I’ve been using these 101 books a lot. I just got a whole set of them, and they are cute and fun, and their recipes tend to be fairly simple, because they have to fit into that tiny little format. Some of them are better then others, but all in all I find them to be much better then I expected them to be.

This was definitely a winner.

Steak au poivre

1tbsp Black, mixed, or green peppercorns, crushed using a pestle and mortar
2 sirloin steaks, about 175g each, choose a steak with a nice marbling of fat through it
1tsp butter
2tbsp brandy
2tbsp red wine
2tbsp whipping cream

Press the crushed peppercorns into both sides of the steak, to coat it evenly.
Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat, and add the butter. When it is foaming, sprinkle the steaks with salt and put them in the pan. Cook for 2.5 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2.5 minutes on the other side for rare (add another minute each side for medium rare, 2 for medium).
Tip in the brandy, allowing it to bubble for a couple of minutes. Take out the steaks and rest on hot plates.
Add the wine to the pan, scraping to get up all the sticky, caramelized meat juices. Stir in the cream, bubble gently till thickened. If it separates and looks curdled, add a little bit of water and stir vigorously; it’ll come together nicely.
Serve the steaks on warm plates with the sauce spooned over and with chips on the side.

This was another from 101 Global Dishes. I have mixed feelings about this one. The sauce was lovely, but I felt that there was big flaw with the way it was written. It says “Cook for 2.5 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2.5 minutes on the other side for rare (add another minute each side for medium rare, 2 for medium).
Tip in the brandy, allowing it to bubble for a couple of minutes. Take out the steaks and rest on hot plates.”
I think that it meant to say that you should put the brandy in for the last couple of minutes of cooking, not cook then put in the brandy and cook for a few more minutes.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that, and my steaks were over cooked. I was hoping for rare, and there was no bit of pinkness anywhere in there.

That disappointed me really severely because we don’t buy good steaks like that very often, and to wind up eating it well done, was depressing.

Still, the sauce was good, and the coating was nice too. Enough pepper to give flavor and heat, but not crazy over the top (thought it looks like it would be).

I do recommend this recipe, as long as you heed my warning.

When it comes down to it, I think the real problem is that I’m not terribly good at cooking steaks. Sometimes it’s the simplest things, that can be real tough points. Don’t know why. I’m going to try again over the holiday. Wish me luck.

Lamb Saag

3 garlic cloves, peeled
large thumb sized piece of ginger, roughly chopped
2-3 green chilies, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
oil for frying
750g diced lamb shoulder, fat trimmed off
2tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2tsp coriander seed, toasted and ground
1tsp turmeric
2 cardamom pods, squashed with the blade of a knife
4 large tomatoes, quartered
300ml lamb stock
200g spinach, washed and roughly chopped
coriander leaves to garnish
naan bread or basmati rice to serve

Put the garlic, ginger, chilies, and onion into a small food processor and whiz to a puree (or you could very finely chop everything).
Heat a little oil in a large casserole. Brown the lamb all over and scoop out. Fry the spices in the same pan for a couple of minutes until fragrant then add the onion puree and cook for 2 min. Add the lamb tomatoes and stock. Stir, cover and cook for 45 minutes.
Stir in the spinach and cook for a further 45 min, or until the lamb is meltingly tender. Scatter the coriander over.

This is not a fast dish to cook, it takes over an hour and a half, on the stove, but it is really easy. There is very little preparation involved. A little food processor-ing a little browning, and your set to go about your other business.

I loved this. I used slightly less chilli, for the sake of the boys, and the flavor was still beautiful and multi layered. The coriander really brings it all together, so don’t skip it. It’s also a bonus that the lamb is a cheaper cut, so this is not absurdly expensive to make.

The one thing I would do different next time, is remove the lid a little early. I felt it could have benefited from reducing a little bit.

Still, it with the spinach in it, it felt like an all inclusive type meal. It’s got your meat and green veg, throw it on a little rice, and it’ll do nicely as a meal on it’s own. It would also be very good as part of a larger meal, but I didn’t have it in me to more today.

From 101 Global Dishes.

Corned beef hash

7 oz (200 g) tinned corned beef (I used leftover corned beef)
2 large, very fresh eggs
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 rounded teaspoon grain mustard
1 large onion
10 oz (275 g) Desirée or King Edward potatoes
2-3 tablespoons groundnut or other flavourless oil
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Start this off by cutting the corned beef in half lengthways, then, using a sharp knife, cut each half into four ½ inch (1 cm) pieces. Now chop these into ½ inch (1 cm) dice, then scoop them all up into a bowl. Combine the Worcestershire sauce and mustard in a cup and pour this all over the beef, mixing it around to distribute it evenly.
Now peel and halve the onion, cut the halves into thin slices and then cut these in half. The potatoes need to be washed and cut into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes, leaving the skin on, then place the cubes in a saucepan. Pour enough boiling water from the kettle to almost cover them, then add salt and a lid and simmer for just 5 minutes before draining them in a colander and then covering with a clean tea cloth to absorb the steam.
Now heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in the frying pan and, when it's smoking hot, add the sliced onions and toss them around in the oil to brown for about 3 minutes altogether, keeping the heat high, as they need to be very well browned at the edges.
After that, push all the onions to the edge of the pan and, still keeping the heat very high, add the potatoes and toss these around, too, because they also need to be quite brown. Add a little more oil here if necessary. Now add some seasoning, then, using a pan slice, keep turning the potatoes and onions over to hit the heat. After about 6 minutes, add the beef and continue to toss everything around to allow the beef to heat through (about 3 minutes).
After that, turn the heat down to its lowest setting and, in the smaller frying pan, fry the eggs in the remaining oil (see How to fry an egg, below). Serve the hash divided between the two warm plates with an egg on top of each and don't forget to have plenty of tomato ketchup on the table.

I still have some left over corned beef
. This is it’s third incarnation. All in all, this piece of meat that cost me 5 pounds, has lasted a family of four through one dinner, two breakfasts, and two lunches. That worked out well, as long as you really love corned beef.

You would think I would have gone for an American recipe for this, but after looking around, Delia Smith’s .
looked the best. I liked the look of the Worcestershire and mustard flavoring.

One of the reasons I made this, is because I have only ever known corned beef hash from a tin, and I always wondered what it would have been like if it was a real food.

Well, this is it.

It is very different to what I have had in the past, as you would imagine, but it’s a really nice (though heavy) breakfast. It’s also really easy to make. Whether you are a fan of the tinned kind or not, you should try this. If you weren’t a fan, you could easily think of this as a different food. If you’ve been a fan, then it will be interesting to see a fresher version of it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Best Mince Pies Ever

I made these from memory today, but then realized that I didn’t really know how to type it up, so I pulled this from Jamie Oliver’s web site. It was in the blog section from another person who was typing it from memory. Looks like what I did though.

"OK, this is purely from memory.


1 block shop bought puff pastry

1 packet bought filo pastry

1 jar good fruit mincemeat

handful of roast chestnuts

handful of dried cranberries

1 block of butter

Icing sugar to decorate

No black pepper (if you saw the programme, you know why)


Roll out puff pastry to about the size ogf a teatowel. Spread mincemeat all over. Chop chestnuts and scatter over. Scatter on dried cranberries. Roll pastry from long edge into a tight sausage. Cut sausage into rounds about 3/4" thick.

Take a 12 hole tart or bun tin. Lay out enough filo pastry to cover the same area as the bun tin, brushing with melted butter. Lay on a second layer, overlapping joints, and again brushing with butter. Pick up the double sheet you have made, and lay it over bun tin.

Take the pastry that was at the end of your "puff pastry roll" and use it to push filo sheet down into bun tin holes. Place one slice from the puff pastry roll in each bun tin hole. Scatter with a little mor icing sugar.

Bake in a pre-heated oven, 180C, 360F gas 5 for about 20 mins or until golden brown, risen and crisp.

Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, Put cooling tray on top
and invert - remove bun tin. Put another cooling tray on top, and turn back over. Scatter more icing sugar on top, and break off individual mince pies.

Serve warm - with a dollop of creme fraiche if you like.

I had to blog these right away. I never liked mince pies, I try one every year, but I never like them any better then I did the year before, but I LOVE these. I think it’s because the mince is more spread out. I really can’t take a whole big blob of mince all at once, but this was still heavily mince-ish, without being too much for me.
Also the combination of the two types of pastry is a great effect. The soft squishyness of the puff pastry and the crispiness of the filo work really well together, and I’m not sure if it’s supposed to happen, but mine caramelized lightly on the bottoms. Bonus.
These are just so good. Make these. Make them right away, especially if you are not a mince pie fan.

He also made a topping for them, it was crème fraiche, sweetened with some vanilla sugar, a bit of zest from a Satsuma, and then some brandy, set on fire, then added to the crème fraiche mixture.

I had to try this, it was too cool. I have never made anything on fire before, that was a lot of fun. Just as a little note, the way you put it out is by putting the lid back on the pot. I hadn’t thought it through, and panicked a bit when I realized that I didn’t know how to put it out. Everything turned out fine though, and the sauce was beautiful.

Normally I would type this up when I got the chance, but I had to put it on right away, in case anybody wants the super best ever mince pies this Christmas.

The boys loved them too. My older son took one bite, and had this to say...

Open Faced Ruben sandwiches

We made these with the left over Corned beef here.

You need
Corned beef
rye bread
Russian dressing (or Thousand Island if you are in the UK)
Swiss Cheese (Emental)

Toast the bread, assemble the sandwiches, and put under the grill til the cheese melts.

These rocked! I love them and I haven’t had one since we left the States. It was really great to have one again. The boys kind of liked theirs, but they weren’t so fond of the sauerkraut. Whenever I have a corned beef, I will save some aside to make these.

Spiced Silverside

1.8 kg (4 lb) piece salted silverside (beefcut from the rump)
If it's not salted, see the brining process below
1 onion, skinned and sliced
2 carrots, pared and sliced
1 small turnip, pared and sliced
1 - 2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
8 cloves
1/2 cup (90 g) soft brown sugar
1/2 level tsp (2.5 ml) dry mustard
1 level tsp (5 ml) ground cinnamon
juice of 1 orange

1. Soak the meat for several hours or overnight, then rinse it, put in a large pan with the vegetables, cover with water and bring slowly to the boil. Remove any scum, cover with a lid and simmer until tender, allowing about 1 hour for 450 g (1 lb), 2-3 hours for 1-1.4 kg (2-3 lb) and 3 - 4 hours for 1.8-2.3 kg (4-5 lb).

2. Allow to cool in the liquid.

3. Drain, put into a roasting tin and stick the cloves into the fat. Mix together the remaining ingredients and spread over the meat.

4. Bake in the oven at 180°C (350°F) mark 4 for 3/4 - 1 hour, basting from time to time.

Serve hot or cold.

I was at the supermarket the other day and they had the cheapest cuts of silverside I’ve ever seen in their Christmas surplus area. I picked it up and used the brining method Here. Then I used the method above to cook it.

This was wonderful. I really liked it. The fact that you roast it at the end makes a huge difference in texture, and the glaze in the top is such a nice touch.

It takes a long time, but it’s not labor intensive at all. Also, once it is brined and cooked, it becomes very versatile. I’ll be bloging the Ruben sandwiches that we made with some of the leftovers, and tomorrow I plan to make some corned beef hash with some more left overs. This is a great tasty recipe, and it’s also economical. Next time you see a large, cheap cut of tougher meat on sale, keep this method in mind. I got it from

Spaghetti with Tomato and Brie

300g spaghetti
500g courgettes, halved lengthways
3tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
140g brie, diced

Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water according to packet directions. Meanwhile, slice the courgettes. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then fry the courgettes and garlic for 3-4 minutes till softened.
Add the lemon zest , tomatoes and about 3tbsp of the pasta water (enough to make a sauce). Cook for a further 2-3 min until the tomatoes begin to soften. Remove from the heat and stir in the brie so it just starts to melt. Season and add lemon juice to taste.
Drain the spaghetti well and toss with the tomato mixture.

This came from 101 Cheap Eats.

This was another one of those super easy, quick spaghetti sauces I love so much. It did have a bit of chopping, but you could still, quite easily make the sauce in the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta.

This one was interesting to me because I had never thought of using Brie in a tomato sauce before. It was wonderful. I don’t know why I never thought of it, it’s such a brilliantly melt-y cheese.

I really like this a lot. The lemon perks it up without making it any less of a comfort food. I’m going to try it again in the summer when the good tomatoes come back, but even with winter tomatoes, it’s still worth making.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Greek baked Lamb with olives

2tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
4 Garlic cloves, chopped
4 lamb shoulder steaks (150g each)
900g potatoes, cut into chunks
Cherry tomatoes, or chopped tomatoes 400g tin
600ml lamb or beef stock
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dried oregano
125g pitted kalamata olives
25g caperberries, or capers, rinsed
a small bunch of fresh oregano, roughly chopped

Heat to 180c.
Heat the oil in a large roasting tin. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Push the onions and garlic to one side, then add the lamb steaks and brown for a few minutes on each side. Add the potatoes with the tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, dried oregano, olives and caperberries, and stir well. Season.
Bake for 40 min, until the lamb is tender and the potatoes are cooked and the stock reduced. Scatter on the fresh oregano and serve with a salad.

This was another from 101 Global Dishes, and it was wonderful. This recipe has so many good points. It uses a cheap cut of lamb, so as far as lamb dishes go, it’s on the more affordable side. It is amazingly fast and easy to prepare. It uses caperberries, which I have been wanting to try for ages. It makes the house smell fabulous, and most importantly, it tastes really good.

The oregano is strangely prominent in the flavor of the finished dish, but in a really good way, and the caperberries and kalamata olives are just wonderful. I also love that the potatoes are cooked right in the same dish, so all you really need is a side salad, and you’ve got a good filling meal.

I would make this again.

Stuffed Peppers with rice, pine nuts and dill

Olive oil, 2 tbsp plus extra for drizzling
1 Onion, finely chopped
4tbsp pine nuts
1tsp smoked paprika
1tsp ground cinnamon
125g cooked basmati rice
4tbsp fresh dill, chopped
100g feta, cubed
2 peppers orange, red or yellow, halved

Heat the oven to 180c
Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the onion over low heat till golden. Add the pine nuts and brown lightly. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute. Add the cooked rice and dill and stir together. Season well. Fold in the feta.
Put the peppers cut side up into a roasting tin. Divide the mixture among them and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Cover with foil and roast for 40 min until the peppers are tender, then remove the foil and cook for a further 5 min.

This came from 101 Global Dishes.

These were very nice. I have to admit that I usually wind up liking stuffed peppers more in theory then in actual practice, but these were really nice ones. They were incredibly easy and fast to make, and the dill and feta combination is always a winner. I don’t know if I would make them again, but that has more to do with my feelings about stuffed peppers, then my feelings about this recipe. It was good.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Three top Christmas cookies, and an honorable mention

I tried a bunch of cookies for Christmas, and these are three good solid choices. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to delve into spice cookies, which I always find so Christmas-y, but if I get to it before the holidays, I’ll let you know.

Cookies with jam
1/2 cup of butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
Raspberry preserves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream butter, sugars, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Blend in flour and milk. Stir in chocolate chips.
Shape dough into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased baking sheets.
Make a small indentation with thumb in the top of each ball. Use a teaspoon to place a small amount of raspberry preserves in each indentation.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from sheets and cool on wire racks.
Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

These are from, and they are big time winners. They score high marks for Christmas-y-ness because they are brightly colored and fun. High marks for overall good cookie-ness because they are really tasty, and super high marks in the fun-for-kids category as well.

The boys loved making these! They always like the measuring and pouring and mixing and all that, but these were special. They got to roll all the dough into balls, then they got to poke their fingers in them to make holes, and they got to fill up all the little holes with jam. Seriously, what could be a more fun cookie baking experience. It’s practically sand castles.

The dough was really good. It held it’s shape well even if it had to be re-rolled. Also it didn’t suffer from sitting long enough for two little boys to fill all those holes very carefully and slowly. Fine stand up dough.

I tried a second batch of these on my own with a couple of variations. I thought it would be fun to do red and green cookies, so I made one batch with lemon and lime jam (the only strikingly green jam I could find), and dark chocolate chunks. Then I made some with the raspberry jam to go with them, but I used white chocolate chips (because white chocolate goes really well with raspberry).

The lemon lime ones were ok. They wound up tasting like Jaffa Cakes. Not a horrible loss, but not nearly as good as the white chocolate raspberry ones. In the end I decided that they don’t have to be green and red. The red is festive enough on it’s own.

These are really nice. The way they are made, with the jam in the center of a ball means that when the cookies spread, the jam will stay in the center well, and not run off or burn, and the dough makes a nice soft cookie, good consistency, good taste. It looks like it’s a lot of steps to do, but it’s actually quite fast and easy (if you aren’t working with kids).

These get my vote.

Creamed Choc-Oat cookies

125g white chocolate
125g plain chocolate
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
1 medium egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g porridge oats
150g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder

Preheat to 180 and lightly grease two baking sheets. Using a sharp knife chop the chocolate into small chunks, no larger then ½ inch
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl till pale. Add the egg, vanilla, and oats. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and mix until evenly combined. Stir in the chocolate chunks.

Place dessertspoonfuls of the mixture onto baking sheets, spacing them apart to allow room for spreading. Flatten each one slightly with the back of a fork.
Bake for 12 – 15 min until risen and turning golden. Leave on the baking sheets for 5 min, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin for up to one week.

These came from Good Housekeeping Step By Step Cook Book.

These are excellent! They are not especially Christmas-y at all, but there’s no reason why they can’t be. Especially when they are so unbelievably easy and good. Even if you don’t make these as a Christmas cookie, try them. After making these only once, I have designated these as my go-to-cookies. When I just need a cookie, and I don’t want to try anything new and fancy, these are the ones to make.

Oatmeal adds the really nice chewy-ness that all superior cookies should have, and the two kinds of chocolate, in chunks, not chips makes them decadent.

These are in my top three, even if they are not officially Christmas cookies.


Beat until well blended, 15-20 seconds:
½ lb unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
Add all at once and beat on a low speed, just until the dough comes together, 10 – 15 seconds:
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
Divide the dough into thirds. Flatten each third into a 6x4 inch rectangle, or a 6 inch circle. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or packed airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.)
To bake, position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350f. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk together:
1/3 cup sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
working quickly with one portion of dough at a time (leave the remainder refrigerated), generously sprinkle a work surface, and the top of the dough with:
All purpose flour

For rectangle rugelach:
Roll each portion into a 16x10 inch rectangle, about 1/8th inch thick. Brush the excess flour from the top and bottom of the dough, and turn the dough so that the long side of the dough is parallel to the edge of the work surface. Leaving a ¼ inch border, spread 1 rectangle with:
¼ cup raspberry jam or apricot preserves
Along the edge of the jam on the long side nearest you, place a line of:
¼ cup raisins or chocolate chips
Sprinkle the rest of the surface with 2tsp of the cinnamon sugar and:
2&1/2 Tbsp ground walnuts
Roll the dough, starting at the raisin edge, gently tucking and tightening as you go.
Finish with the seam of the roll facing down. Cut the roll into 1&1/2 inch thick slices. Repeat with the remaining rectangles.

For crescent Rugelach:
Shape by rolling each portion into a circle about 14 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Spread the jam in a thin layer, leaving ¼ inch border, then sprinkle the entire surface with the raisins, cinnamon and sugar, and ground nuts. Cut the circle like a pizza, creating 8 (for large cookies), or 16 (for small cookies)even triangles. Roll up from the wide end to the point, tucking the point over. Repeat with the remaining circles.
With a spatula, transfer the rugelach to the cookie sheet. Sprinkle each cookie with 1/8 tsp of the cinnamon and sugar. Bake until the bottoms are light golden (the tops will be blond), about 25 min. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until they firm slightly. Transfer to racks to cool.

This recipe is just the plain old Joy of Cooking recipe for rugelach, but it was really great.

It’s interesting because the dough itself has no sugar in it at all, it’s only the topping that is sweetened, which means that you can have a lot more control over how sweet you make them. The dough, being pretty much cream cheese and butter, is really soft and lovely and just a little bit tangy from the cream cheese. Also so so so easy to make, takes no time at all.

As for the fillings, I tried two different ways, and I would recommend using both. There are three sets of dough, so I say use Raspberry and white chocolate chips for one batch, apricot and raisins for the next, then the third can be whichever strikes your fancy.

These are one of my top three choices of all the cookie recipes I’ve tried this year. I whole heartedly recommend them.

And, as an honorable mention...

Christmas sugar cookies
½ pound unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
¼ tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 1/3 cup flour

Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the egg, baking powder, salt and vanilla and beat until well combined.
Then stir in the flour till well blended and smooth.
Divide the dough in half. Place each half between two large sheets of parchment paper. Roll out to a scant ¼ inch thick, checking the underside of the dough and smoothing any creases. Keeping the paper in place, layer the rolled dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate till cold and slightly firm but not hard, 20-30 min.
Preheat the oven to 350F Grease your cookie sheets.
Working with one portion of dough at a time (leave the other in the fridge), gently peel away and replace one sheet of paper (this will make it easier to lift the cookies from the paper later). Peel away and discard the second sheet. Cut out the cookies using 2 or 3 inch cutters. With a spatula, transfer them to cookie sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used. Briefly refrigerate the dough if it becomes too soft to handle. If desired, lightly sprinkle the cookies with colored sprinkles, or colored sugar.
Bake 1 sheet at a time, just until the cookies are lightly colored on top, and slightly darker at the edges, 6 to 9 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack an let stand until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer to racks and cool.

These were one of two cookie recipes that I took from the Joy of Cooking this Christmas.

It’s a classic, so I thought it would be a real winner. I got the cookie cutters in all the Christmas shapes. I have to say, that the cookies themselves were actually very nice. They were light and buttery and lovely tasting. There was no problem with the cookies themselves. The problem was that I though cookies like that would be a perfect activity for the boys, Christmas cookies with their Christmas cutters. We did make them all together as a group, but what I learned is that any recipe that says to put the dough back in the fridge if you need to firm it up, is going to be no good at all for tiny little, warm, and inefficient hands. They had a great time, but by about the third cookie, the dough had gone too soft from being touched and left out long enough for little kids to get three cookies cut. It was fine, we just cut a few cookies from each batch of dough, then I put all the rest back in the fridge. The kids had a great time, as kids do, but they got a bit frustrated at not being able to get the shapes to come out correctly, and at the dough being too soft and sticking to the cutters (my younger son just switched to making balls out of the dough and squishing them).

For the record I should say that I did the left over dough by myself, to see how it went, and an adult working on their own should have no trouble with this dough at all. It’s just that fun fun cookie cutters really kind of cry out for little kids.

Top scores for Christmas-y-ness, good scores for overall taste, but low low scores for making with kids.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jerusalem Artichokes

600g Jerusalem Artichokes, peeled and cut into chunks
a few bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
a splash of white wine vinegar

Place the Jerusalem Artichokes in an oiled pan, and fry on medium heat until golden on both sides, then add bay leaves, garlic, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and place a lid on top. After about 20-25 minutes they will have softened up nicely and you can remove the lid and the bay leaves. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes, to crisp them up, and serve straight away.
Good with meat or fish, or in a plate of antipasti, or in soups or warm salads

This is a Jamie Oliver way of preparing Jerusalem Artichokes. It’s sort of a base recipe. You do this, and you can either eat them this way, or you can go on to add other things. He gives a few other suggestions that look really good. I will definitely be trying them. Jerusalem artichokes are probably my all time favorite vegetable. They cook like potatoes, and taste like artichokes, what could be better.

Like I said, this is just a base recipe, but it is really wonderful, even left on it’s own like this. There were really tasty crunchy bits, and really soft bits. You couldn’t taste the vinegar, I suppose it just hi-lighted the flavor of the vegetable.

This was super easy. I will make these again and again, and I will also try the variations that he recommends. If you’ve not given this vegetable a try, now’s the time!

Root Vegetable bake

100g butter, softened
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3tbsp fresh thyme leaves
85g Gruyere, finely grated
750g waxy potatoes, peeled
225g celeriac, peeled
450g carrots, peeled
450g parsnips, peeled and cored
Vegetarian gravy to serve

Preheat to 190c. Use 25g butter to
Grease a 20cm cake tin (not loose bottom). Mash the remaining butter with the lemon zest, thyme and gruyere. Season.
Very thinly slice the vegetables. Layer one third of the potatoes, then celeriac, carrots and parsnips in the tin. Dot with the butter. Repeat the layers. Finish with black pepper and dots of butter.
Cover the tin with foil and bake for 45 min. Remove the foil and bake for 45 more minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Leave for 5 min. Invert onto a warm plate, place a plate over the top and invert again so the crispy side is on top,

This was from Good Food 101 veggie Dishes. The book said to serve this as if it was a roast, with vegetarian gravy.

This recipe was a huge disappointment.

It takes ages to do all the slicing. It’s a lot of vegetables, and they all have to be sliced really thinly. Still, that wouldn’t be so bad if it was a really wonderful dish, but it’s not all that. The flavor is pretty good, the gruyere cheese is a nice touch, but it does not hold together the way it is supposed to. It just falls apart into a pile. I think it would make a fine side dish to go with something else, but it cannot really stand on it’s own, as a main dish.

Pea and Tomato Curry

1 onion, chopped
root ginger, thumb sized piece
1 clove garlic
250g paneer, cut into chunks
oil for frying
2 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
a pinch of cayenne
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
300ml vegetable stock
300g frozen peas, defrosted

Whiz the onion, ginger and garlic in a food processor until pureed. Fry the paneer in 2tsp of oil until golden brown. Scoop out. Fry the onion mix until fragrant, about 5 min. Stir in the spices, then the tomatoes and stock, and simmer for 10 minutes until thickened. Add the paneer and peas and cook for 5 min.
I got this recipe from Good Food 101 veggie Dishes.

It’s not like the mater paneer that you would get in an Indian restaurant. It’s got a much fresher cleaner taste to it. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is closer to actual Indian home coking, but I don’t know that for sure.

What I do know is that this was fast and easy and tasted really good. If you are out here in the uk, then you can get all these ingredients in most supermarkets, if you are in the US some of them might be harder to find (I don’t know about other places).

I served this with a little basmati rice, and it was really comforting and satisfying. I will make this again, it’s so easy and fast.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tom Yum Noodle Soup

1tbsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
140g button mushrooms, sliced
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
2tsp Thai red curry paste
700ml vegetable stock
1tbsp soy sauce
zest of 1 lime, and juice of ½
125g egg noodles
220g can bamboo shoots, drained
handful of fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until golden. Stir in the garlic, mushrooms, and red pepper and fry for 3 minutes. Add the Thai curry paste and cook for 1 min. Stir in the stock, soy sauce, and grated lime zest. Simmer for 3 min.
Add the noodles to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 4 min, until they are cooked. Add the bamboo shoots and most of the coriander and cook for 2 min.
Divide the noodles between two soup bowls. Add the lime juice to the broth and season to taste. Pour over the noodles, scatter the remaining coriander over and serve.

I got this from Good Food 101 veggie Dishes.

There was someone out there that asked me about vegetarian recipes that used soba noodles. I hope you’re still reading, because this is a really good one. You don’t need to use Soba noodles if you can’t find them, but they worked really well with this.

It doesn’t say what to do with the garlic, so I sliced it. I think dicing would be fine too, but leaving it whole didn’t seem like a good idea since there isn’t actually that much cooking time. Also, I thought I had a tin of bamboo shoots, but I didn’t, so I used baby corn instead. It worked just fine. I’m not sure how easy it is to find Thai red curry paste in the States, but out here it’s in most grocery stores.

This recipe was really really good. I loved it! It wasn’t quite like the Tom Yum soup we used to get when we went out. It was less spicy, and had slightly fewer things in it. Still, you can easily make it more spicy if you want to, and add more things if you want too. This is fast and easy and cheap and delicious. The combination of lime and coriander is impossible for me to resist. I will definitely make this again, it was too good.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Clementine Pork Steaks

2tbsp sunflower oil
4 lean pork steaks, about 100g each
200g mushrooms, sliced
2tsp paprika
2tbsp red currant jelly
50ml Clementine juice (from about 2 clementines)
1tbsp red wine vinegar

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in the pan, add the pork steaks and fry quickly until browned on both sides (the steaks will still be underdone in the middle at this point. Remove from the pan, add the remaining oil, then fry the mushrooms till softened.
Return the pork to the pan, sprinkle in the paprika and stir in the redcurrant jelly and Clementine juice. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the jelly. Simmer for about 5 min, turning the pork halfway through, until the meat and mushrooms are tender.

I found this in Good Food Magazine.

Notice, the red wine vinegar is never actually mentioned in the preparation. Just in the ingredient list. I figured that must have been some kind of misprint, so I went ahead and added it with the jelly and juice.

This was very nice. We were out and I wasn’t sure what I was making, but I had this magazine with me, so I picked this out, so I could get what I needed on the way home. This was exactly what I wanted, it was quick, it was easy, and it was tasty.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

pork chops with mustard sauce

2 pork chops
2tsp garlic oil
125ml cider
1 Tbsp grainy mustard
75ml double cream
bag of gnocchi, prepared according to package

Cut the fat or rind off the chops, and then bash them briefly, but brutally with a rolling pin between two pieces of cling film to make them thinner.
Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and cook the chops over moderately high heat for about 5 min per side. Remove them to a warmed plate.
Pour the cider into the pan, still over the heat, to de-glaze the pan. Let it bubble away for a minute or so, then add the mustard and stir in the cream.
Let the sauce continue cooking for a few minutes before pouring over each plated pork chop. If you’re having gnocchi with it, make sure you turn them in the pan to absorb any spare juices before adding them to your plates.

This sounded like it was going to be my favorite thing in the world, but it’s not. It was ok, and it was super fast, and sometimes that’s what you’re looking for. So it was fine, but I was hoping for more from it.

I found it in Nigella Express. I’m unsure about this book. A few of the recipes from it have been super amazing and wonderful, but then others have been downright disappointing. It’s hit or miss, which is odd because usually I really love her stuff. She’s still one of my favorites, but I think that the emphasis on express in this book wound up hurting it a bit .

Monday, December 10, 2007

Charisse’s Grandmother’s Beet’d Eggs

This is a country-style recipe, which means you can tweak it or use
different amounts.
Here is what my grandmother uses.

-Two large pickle jars with lids.
-about 6 fresh beets (hard to find but best to use) (get 8 beets if they
are smaller than a plum)
-1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
-at least 2 cups apple cider vinegar
-at least 2 cups sugar
-2-4 cinnamon sticks
Cut stems off the fresh beets, leave about 1 inch of stem.
Boil the beets until soft (they are hard like potatoes, so it will take
at least 20 minutes)
Let beets cool, then peel them and cut off the extra stem part. Beets
so be sure to wear old yucky clothes. You may also want to wear rubber
gloves, or walk
around with pink hands for a few days.

Warm up the vinegar, and add the sugar. Warm until the sugar melts.

Put the beets and eggs into the pickle jars, distributing evenly. Cram
the cinnamon sticks
in there. IMPORTANT: if you do not have cinnamon sticks, DO NOT
substitute cinnamon
powder, it will congeal some nasty stuff in there and be unpleasant.
Skip the cinnamon
if you don't have the sticks.

Fill the jars with the vinegar/sugar solution. If you need more vinegar
solution, warm some
more up and add an equal amount of sugar, then add. Let sit in the
refrigerator for 2 weeks.
Then, eat the eggs, they should be dark pink and sweet/vinegary. You may
re-use the beets
and water once (just add more eggs). I personally give away the eggs and
eat the beets!

I’ve been waiting to post this till I could try them, and I finally got to taste them today. It’s been hard to wait, because they looked like so much fun.

They were really easy to make. The only thing I will emphasis is wearing gloves when you deal with the beets. They sort of bleed as you peel them, and having the gloves on means you just don’t have to worry about it at all. The coolest thing is that when you first make them you can see these white patches where the boiled eggs are pressing up against the side of the jar, and then as they cool down, the eggs start turning red from the beet juice, so it looks like the eggs are receding into the beet-y darkness of the jar. It’s all so pretty.

So I finally got to try them today, and they are amazing! They are so good. The eggs dye down to the yolks, so they are very pretty, and they don’t have the harshness that regular pickled eggs do. They taste kind of creamy and a little sweet.

I have to say, I knew I was going to like them, but my husband is a much tougher customer. He does not like pickled eggs at all, so I figured I’d be eating all of these on my own, but he loved them too! He’s leaving all the beets for me though, which is fine all around. They are really good too, again, not as harsh as the pickled beets that you buy, which means that you can still taste the actual beet flavor.

These were a huge success. I think we are going to always have a jar of these around.

If you are reading this Charisse THANK YOU!!!!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Toad in the Hole

A pack of sausages
125g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
A few twists of black pepper
2 medium eggs
1egg yolk
150ml milk
150ml water

Gravy (Stock reduction)
500ml good quality stock
¼ bottle of red wine

Put all of the batter ingredients into a food processor, with the plunger removed to help with aeration, and pulse for about five 10 second bursts until you have a smooth batter the consistency of single cream. Leave the batter to rest for at least 30 min before using.
If you are making gravy, add the wine to the stock and boil hard to reduce it to an intensely flavored sauce with a light syrupy consistency. Season with salt only at the end.

Pour 1tbsp of oil into a roasting tin or flameproof dish and place in the center of a hot oven 220c, to heat through for about 10 min. Then add the sausages, and cook them in the oven for a few minutes. Turn them browned side up, and push them around so they are relatively evenly spaced in the tin, pour the batter around and return to the oven for at least 15 min, probably not more then 20, until the batter is puffed up and a nice golden brown.

I’ve been meaning to make this for ages. Yorkshire pudding, all around sausage, what could be better? There are a hundred million recipes for this out there, I wound up using the one from The River Cottage Meat Book. Although, it’s not really the recipe as it’s written, because that called for a variety of meats, but other then that it’s the same.

Speaking of the meats involved. Cookbad was mentioning that she made this once, only it called for meatballs instead of sausage. It makes much more sense if you think about it, because little meatballs sticking out of the batter would look much more like toads in holes then sausages do.

Still, whether it looked like toads or not, it was damn tasty, and I’d make it again.

Make sure you don’t open the oven till it’s time to check if it’s done. The batter can get a bit fussy and fall if it gets a breeze from an open oven door while it’s puffing.

Other then that, this is super easy, very tasty, and kids love it.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Gypsy Stew

450g chickpeas, or white beans, or a mixture of both soaked overnight, or 2X400g tins of chickpeas or beans
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Garlic cloves. Peeled but left whole
2 onions, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 tomatoes, grated
1tsp sweet, non-smoked paprika
Pinch of hot paprika
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 bay leaf
1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
300g pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cut into 2 inch pieces
200g green beans, topped and tailed, and cut into 1 inch lengths
4 conference pears, peeled, cored and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2Tbsp almonds, roasted
2tbsp white wine vinegar
Pinch of saffron strands, crumbled and steeped in hot water for 10 min
A few fresh mint leaves chopped

Begin by draining the chickpeas or beans, placing them in a large pot, and covering them with water. Bring to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer and cooking for about an hour until they are tender. You may leave this step out all together if you are using canned pulses.
Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the garlic and fry until golden. Remove the garlic and set aside.
Next, using the same oil, fry the onions and red pepper until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook until reduced before adding the paprika.
Drain the chickpeas or beans and add the onion mixture, the potatoes, bay leaf and stock to the pot. Simmer for about 10 min, then add the pumpkin, beans and pears, and continue to cook until everything is tender.
While the vegetables are cooking pound the reserved garlic, 1tsp salt, and the almonds together with a mortar and pestle. Add the vinegar and saffron and work to a paste.
Once the vegetables are ready, stir in the paste, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle over a little chopped mint.

To grate the tomatoes, cut in half through the equator, and then use a box cheese grater. The skin stays intact, which helps to protect your fingers, and the flesh grates.

Last one in my trio of recipes from The Real Taste of Spain, and yes, it’s another winner. I have started to use a three recipe test for all of my new books. If all three are good, it’s a favorite book. If it gets two out of three, it can still be respectable. One out of three might get a fourth try if the good one was amazing, but I think you can get a good idea of the book overall by making three recipes from it (obviously if it’s a good book, I’ll keep trying new things from it.). It’s helpful because I can pick a recipe from a book like this, and feel confident that it will come out well, even if I’ve never made it before.

This book rocks, and this tip about grating tomatoes rocks too. It so totally works. The skins just stay whole, even though the rest of it grates with no problem. It keeps you from accidentally grating your fingers, which is good too.

This recipe was really interesting. The pears are really surprising at first, but they add such a nice sweetness, after the first initial surprise, they blend in really nicely. I was also intrigued by the almond/salt/garlic/saffron paste. That’s a new one on me. I have to say that when I make this again (and I believe that I will), I would probably use ground almonds instead, because almonds are no fun to have to grind in a mortar and pestle. It was a bit of a pain.

Other then that, I would not change a thing. I loved it. I made a loaf of bread to go with it, which isn’t strictly necessary, but I thought it added a nice touch. I’ve made a lo of vegetable stews, and often times they come out a little dull, definitely NOT this time.

Good stuff, try it.

Red Pepper Soup

3Tbsp olive oil
5 red peppers roasted and peeled
3 onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sweet paprika
1tsp dark muscovado sugar
850ml homemade chicken stock
juice of ½ to 1 lemon – to taste
4tbsp single cream

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the peppers, onions and garlic, and fry gently until the onions become soft and translucent.
Sprinkle with the spices together with the sugar and stir over the heat for 1 min.
Next add the chicken stock, the real thing please, a stock cube will leave the soup tasting thin and salty, and simmer for 10 min.
Transfer the soup to a blender and process until smooth, then strain if you like, and season with salt and lemon juice to taste.
Reheat the soup with the cream just before serving. Take care not to let it boil or your cream will split. If you are a catty cook, and I speak from experience, then perhaps a dollop of double cream is a safer option – you can boil I to death with no ill effect.

I should admit right off the bat that I did not make my own stock. I just didn’t. I made sure to use a really good high quality, low sodium brand though. I know that when stock reduces it can become horribly over salty if you don’t start with a low salt version. I also used the double cream instead of single. Partly it was just because it was the kind of cream I happened to have in the house, but also, I do like that fact that I can boil it and not watch it and not worry about it.

This was another one from The Real Taste of Spain, and it’s another winner. The flavor was lovely, even my son (who is having a bit of a picky phase), said he liked it.

I roasted the peppers using the tip from the same book. Interesting, it didn’t give a temperature or a time, it just said to put the peppers in the oven, and leave them in until the skins go all bubbly. It mentioned that slower cooking will make the flavor better. That actually made it really easy. When they are done, just pop them into a zip lock bag, seal it up and let them cool (you could also use a bowl covered in cling film). The skins slide right off no problem. I found this to be worlds easier them doing it on the open flame of the hob, which is what most of the tips I’ve seen have suggested. This was low pressure, low maintenance. Also it can be done way in advance, then the soup is super fast and super easy to put together.

This is all good stuff, and I am really liking this book.

Pollo con Aceitunas (Chicken with olives)

1.8kg chicken jointed into pieces, or 4 chicken legs
3tbsp olive oil
½ Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, removed from stems
10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1tsp sweet paprika
2 onions cut into fine slices
6 garlic cloves left whole
1 small dried chili
70ml dry sherry
150g black olives
1 lemon quartered

Preheat the oven to 190c
Season the chicken with salt. Heat the olive oil in a large low sided pan. Add the chicken pieces, and fry until the skin crisps and turns golden.
Remove the chicken from the pan, place in a owl and toss with the fresh herbs and paprika.
Return the pan to the heat and, using the same oil, fry the onions till they begin to brown. Add the garlic and chilli and continue to cook until the garlic begins to color too. Take great care not to urn the garlic: burnt garlic tastes bitter and can ruin a whole dish.
Add the chicken to the pan together with any loose herbs from the bowl. Pour in the sherry and bake in the oven for about 40 min until the chicken is almost ready.
Add the black olives with the lemon quarters, and return the chicken to the oven for about 5 min. Ensure that the chicken is thoroughly cooked before serving.

I loved this! Loved it loved it loved it. It requires very little effort, and it comes out really beautifully.

I used smoked paprika because it didn’t say not to (I notice that some recipes actually specify, not smoked), and I like it.

I thought it was an interesting way to do the spices too, mixing them onto the chicken between the browning and the cooking. It’s an easy way to coat it all well, and it was also just weirdly fun to do.

Other then that it’s just adding the olives and lemon at the end.

This was from a book I haven’t used before called The Real Taste of Spain. It is a beautiful book, and the recipes look really good too. It this one is any indication, then I will love this book. I’ll be trying some more recipes from it right away.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Chorizo and pork belly with haricot beans

750g Boneless pork belly
Olive oil
130g diced pancetta
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1tsp hot smoked paprika
200g chorizo, roughly chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
150ml red wine
400g tin Haricot, or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
a bunch of coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 160c. Cut the pork belly into large chunks. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large oven proof casserole and fry the pork in batches over a high heat until browned all over, then remove with a slotted spoon.
Add the pancetta and cook for 2-3 min till golden, then reduce the heat slightly, and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 2-3 min till softened. Stir in the paprika and chorizo and cook for a minute or so. Return the pork to the pan and tip in the tomatoes. Pour in the mine with enough water just to cover – about 350ml. Season, cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours.
Stir in the haricot beans and return to the oven, without the lid, for 20-30 minutes. Stir in the coriander and serve with crusty bread.

This was so good. This was so very very good. This was so tasty that my husband asked if we could please have this for dinner for a week at least. I have to admit, I have a weakness for anything flavored by smoked paprika, and anything with chorizo too, so this dish was made for me.

I found it in a small book called 101 Global Dishes. These books are fun. It’s a whole series, and they are all really tiny, and I’ve found some good stuff in them.

This was easy to make. It takes a while, but it’s all oven time, the work of it is really easy and all up front. Once you pop it in the oven, you can just go about your business.

I can’t say enough good things about this one. I am going to make some non-dinner recipes in the near future, so that I can make this one over and over again.

Do serve it with crusty bread too.

Chocolate Brownie Cake

100g butter
175g Caster Sugar
75g brown or light muscovado sugar
125g chocolate (dark or milk)
1tbsp golden syrup
2 large eggs, beaten
1tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
2tbsp cocoa powder
To serve:
Fresh fruit and double cream

Preheat to 180c. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
Place the butter, caster sugar, brown sugar, chocolate, and golden syrup in a pan, and melt gently over a low heat until smooth. Remove from the heat, add the eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and cocoa, and mix thoroughly.
Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 min. Allow to cool in the tin for 10-15 min, then cut into wedges and serve warm with fresh cream.

This was from a little book called 101 Chocolate Treats.

I’m not sure I get the point of it being cake shaped and not brownie shaped, but I have to say these were dead easy, and really the perfect satisfying, fulfilling brownies. They were soft, and chewy at the ends, and a little squidgy in the middle (in that good way), and perfectly chocolate-y.

I’ve been wanting to try out a bunch of brownie recipes for awhile now, to find a good one. I don’t think I need to look further. This is just a melt and mix batter, which I have always found to be the easiest and most forgiving, and it uses real chocolate.

Make these next time you need some chocolate. You won’t be sorry.

Chocolate Truffles

250ml double cream
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
275g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
4tbsp rum
50g cocoa powder

Place the chocolate and butter in a large bowl. Bring the cream to a boil, and pour it over the chocolate and butter. Stir gently till the chocolate has melted, trying not to create bubbles, then stir in the rum.
Place the bowl in the fridge to firm up, removing it about 15 min before you want to use it.
Put the cocoa into a bowl. Ensure your hands are cold and dry, then dust them with cocoa. Take spoonfuls of the mixture (use a tsp or a tbsp) and roll the mixture into a ball in your cocoa dusted hands. Drop each truffle into the bowl of cocoa, turn it around, then toss it in your hands to remove any excess powder. The truffles can be returned to he fridge, and kept for up to 2 days, as long as they are stored in an air tight container.

I looked around at a bunch of recipes for truffles, and they all looked pretty similar. I wound up going with the one in James Martin - Desserts.

I was not having terribly good luck making candy. So I thought I would try making chocolates instead for the time being. It’s way easier. It’s so easy, as a matter of fact, that I recommend that everybody try it once. They look really impressive, and they taste delicious.

I tried a few different flavors. I split the mix into four bowls and did one rum, one calvados, one espresso, and one plain. For the espresso one I mixed a little instant espresso powder with a Tbsp of boiling water, and added the liquid.

They were all good, but the flavor wasn’t very strong on any of them. Next time I will either leave them plain (which was really good), or add more/stronger flavor.

These were so good, the only downside was that my husband and I ate a bunch of the espresso ones right before bed by accident. They do not make for a good night’s sleep.

Two failed candy making attempts

Honey fudge

1kg Granulated sugar
410g tin of evaporated milk
100ml water
a pinch of salt
4heaped Tbsp honey
Veg oil for greasing a tin
100g Butter
Put the sugar, evaporated milk and water in a saucepan. The pan should be no more than about a third full at this stage, because the hot mixture will bubble dramatically later. Place over a low heat and stir till the sgar has dissolved. Then stir in the salt and honey. Stand the sugar thermometer in the pan.
Raise the heat and bring the sugar mixture to a fierce, bubbling boil, stirring every half a minute or so, to ensure it isn’t catching on the bottom of the pan. When it reaches 116c, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes. Oil your tin lightly
Cut the butter, into 5 or 6 pieces, and drop them into the mixture. As you do stir vigorously with the wooden spoon. The butter will melt into the thickening syrup, keep stirring. As the mixture cools and thickens, it will start to become grainey. Now it’s time to pour it into the tin. Don’t hang around, or it will start to set while you are pouring it.
Use a sharp knife to Mark off the fudge into squares before it has completely set. This means pressing the knife partly but not completely through the fudge. It will then be very easy to break into squares when it has cooled.

This is from River Cottage Family Cookbook.

Cinder Toffee Honeycomb

400g caster sugar
100ml runny honey
2tbsp liquid glucose
oil, for greasing
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Place the sugar, honey and glucose in a heavy based pan with 100ml water. Place the pan on the heat and, using a sugar thermometer, bring to a boil and boil to 160c/325f (a light caramel)
Grease a large baking tray with oil while the sugar is boiling. When the pan reaches the required temperature remove from the heat, quickly add the bicarb and whisk in speedily.
Working quickly, pour the mixture onto the tray – it will start to bubble up quite dramatically right away. Leave to cool. When cold, break up and mix with ice cream, or to make hokey pokey, dice into chunks and coat in dark chocolate.

From James Martin - Desserts.

These were two failed candy making attempts. The fudge, actually came out as toffee. That was interesting. The cinder toffee was just bad.

After these two attempts, I finally realized that my candy thermometer is not working properly. When I was making the cinder toffee I could tell when the sugar was ready. It smelled like it does when I make peanut brittle, but the thermometer said that it wasn’t there yet, so I waited and waited, and by the time the reading said it was ready, it was totally burned.

Oh well, you live and learn. I’m going to get a new thermometer and try these again, because they looked really promising. Also, the cider toffee is hilarious to make. If you try this, use the biggest pot you have. When you put the bicarbonate of soda in, it’s like a scene from “The Blob”. No joke, it grows and grows and it’s fast and totally out of control. Even after you mix it and pour it out on the tray, it still keeps growing. I thought it was going to take over my whole house.

I won the battle in the end, though it tasted awful and burned, but it didn’t eat anybody.

When I get a new Thermometer, I will try these again, and let you know if they come out better.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

rabbit and dumplings

tender as you like rabbit stew with the best dumplings ever
recipe here

Did you know.. . and this is as true as death and taxes. .. that if you are lost in the wilderness and can manage to snare yourself a few hares to eat (and nothing else- not including water- not that you can snare that) . . you will still die of starvation if you don't eat the entire critter? Bones, eyes, brain, guts, (not hair) are all require for human survival. Rabbits have such little muscle fat that you can starve eating nothing but rabbit flesh.

moving on. . .
I got the newish Cook with Jamie, Jamie Oliver book, my first J.O. book. It's a nice book. He is cute and social conscious, pretty photos. . . and the recipes are solid.

Rabbit with dumplings was my first shot.

Now, finding a butchered rabbit in West L.A. is not only hard, but very expensive. Whole Foods won't carry them because they are all antibioticed up. I paid $30 at Gelson's (boo), which is the same I would have paid for a sweet angora LIVE dwarf rabbit at the local pet emporium. Totally ridiculous.

Still, the meal was fantastic. You could sub in chicken parts for the rabbit and sub in plain old flour with a teaspoon of baking soda per half cup where the recipe calls for self-rising flour.


meh. .
I used to have this fantastic oxtail stew from some Puerto Rican amazing greasy spoon in alphabet city. . .. those were the days. . .

This, not so awesome. But I made some crucial mistakes.
1. most of the oxtail I got was from the very end of the tail. Ask for the biggest ones you see. i.e. not from the very end of the tail. Don't let the butcher sneak in the small ones. If they come pre-packed, ask the butcher for them and don't take pre-packed for an answer.
2. I let them sit in my freezer for a long long time. Maybe a month. Not nice to meat.

here is the recipe.
Folks on love it