Before I put the Christmas cookbooks away I thought I’d best try a few recipes. I’d planned to make the sticky gingerbread recipe from Nigella Christmas over Christmas but I couldn’t find any black treacle in the cupboard. This recipe really is very easy to make and delicious. I find Nigella’s recipes to be a bit more hit and miss than anyone else’s but she is consistently good on cakes. My tin was slightly bigger than she recommended so my pieces are flatter than her picture. I dusted my gingerbread with icing sugar before serving (the icing sugar had been absorbed by the left over gingerbread the next day).
- 250g butter
- 200g golden syrup
- 200g black treacle
- 125g dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp finely grated ginger
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp bicarb of soda, dissolved in 30 mls warm water (2 tbsp of water)
- 250ml full fat milk
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 300g plain flour
- Preheat the oven to 170c/150c fan/gas 3 and prepare a 20 x 30cm baking tray by lining it with baking paper.
- Place the butter, sugar, golden syrup, black treacle, cinnamon, cloves and the fresh and ground ginger in a medium sized saucepan and heat gently. When this mixture has melted take it off the heat and add the milk, bicarb of soda with water and the beaten eggs
- Sift the flour into a large bowl
- Pour the wet ingredients on to the flour and beat until well combined. I ended up with quite a few pockets of flour which I mostly beat out with a whisk.
- Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 – 55 minutes (The mixture will be very runny – don’t worry that’s what it should be like). Don’t overbake.
- When ready, remove from the oven and place the tin on a wire rack to cool. This recipe will cut into about 20 squares and will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight tin. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
I love this dish, it takes a while to cook but doesn’t take that much time to prepare (if your lamb is already cubed). The slow cooking means cheaper cuts of meat can be used. The cinnamon with the lamb makes it distinctly Greek in flavour and it is more of a Greek home cooked meal than anything you will find in a Greek restaurant. I first came across orzo 20 years ago when a Greek friend Maria cooked dinner for us. It is small pieces of oval pasta almost shaped like large grains of rice and it works particularly well in casseroles like this. These days it is available in most large supermarkets in the UK.
Quantities serve 6 generous portions
- 1kg diced lamb
- 2 onions
- 1 tbsp chopped oregano, or 1 tsp dried
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cinnamon sticks , broken in half
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 1.2l hot chicken or vegetable stock
- 400g orzo
- freshly grated parmesan, to serve
- Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Cut the lamb into chunks, then spread over the base of a large, wide casserole dish. Slice onions then add them together with oregano, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon and olive oil, then stir well.
- Bake, uncovered, for 45 mins, stirring halfway.
- Pour over the chopped tomatoes and stock, cover tightly, then return to the oven for 1½ hrs, until the lamb is very tender. (Dish can be frozen at this point, resume from next step after defrosting).
- Remove the cinnamon sticks, then stir in the orzo. Cover again, then cook for a further 20 mins, stirring halfway through. The orzo should be cooked and the sauce thickened.
- Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.
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I’ve already admitted to a bad cookbook habit so it won’t come as a great surprise I have several Christmas cookbooks. I thought I’d review my three general Christmas cookbooks.
- Delia Smith’s Christmas
Delia Smith’s Christmas is my oldest and most well thumbed Christmas cook book. It was the book I used every year to get turkey cooking times and after an unsuccessful attempt with classic mincemeat that went off I subsequently always used Delia’s method of melting the suet. The red cabbage recipe is a classic and whilst I’ve never used Delia’s countdown religiously it has always been useful guidance.
In the past I’ve made the roasted red peppers stuffed with fennel which was good and I make the mushroom risotto from this book regularly. I made her venison casserole this year and will be making that again. There are still many recipes in this book that I’ve never tried. I have often thought I must try her Irish coffee pudding so this time I really will make a note to make it soon.
It contains all the information you might need for successful food at Christmas. Recipes as well as lists, timings and advice. She includes several interesting vegetarian options for Christmas dinner. Justifiably a classic, some recipes may look almost retro but all look good.
The book is spit up into the following chapters:
Lists and More Lists
All kinds of Christmas Cakes
Talking Turkey…and Geese and Hams
Christmas Puddings and Mincemeat
Preserves, Pickles and Chutneys
Christmas on Ice
Canapes and Nibbles
A Party Selection
A Vegetarian Christmas
Ducks, Geese and Game
Roasted Meats and Cold Cuts
Winter Vegetable Dishes and Salads
Christmas Desserts and Sweet Dishes
Homemade Sweets and Chocolates
The Last 36 Hours
Supper Dishes and Left-overs
Mail Order and Home Delivery Suppliers (curiously old fashioned these days)
More About Turkeys
- Nigella Christmas
I like the Nigella Christmas cookbook, it conveys her love of entertaining combined with a ‘don’t stress it’ approach. Although even with my tendency to feed anyone who comes through the door I found the idea of a ‘Welcome table’ groaning with food just to greet anyone who turned up odd. One of my criticisms with this book is its footprint. It is too big to hold easily (in my opinion large format cook books only work if they are slim enough not to be too heavy). A number of the recipes in this book have appeared in previous Nigella cookbooks and it contains at least one spectacular failure – I tried her gingerbread stuffing the Christmas after I got this book and threw it away after one taste. Aidan made her yule log which was nice but nothing spectacular.
That said I make her spruced up vanilla cake from this book several times each year, it’s a very easy cake to make before visiting family and friends and is always well received as it looks special and tastes nice. Browsing through the book for this review I noticed she includes some nice ideas for winter dinner party meals that are not christmassy so I’ll try a couple more recipes before I put this book away for the year.
The book is organised as follows:
The More the Merrier Cocktails, Canapes and Manageable Mass Catering
Seasonal Support Soups, Salads, Sauces and Serve-later sides
Come On Over…Stress free suppers
The Main Event
Joy to the World Christmas Baking and Sweet Treats
All Wrapped Up Edible Presents and Party Preserves
A Christmas Brunch for 6-8
A Bevy of Hot Drinks
Dr Lawson Prescribes…
- Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas
Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas is the most inspirational book, with stunning photographs. Sarah’s planning for Christmas includes flowers and starts in September! It is the sort of book which makes you wish you had a large well stocked garden and lots of free autumn weekends to potter around since at least half of the book is floral and foliage decorations for christmas and there are a number of edible gift recipes. Although the recipes look lovely I’ve only made the christmas pudding ice cream so far which was delicious. I suspect if I didn’t already have Delia’s book this would be my guide to making Christmas dinner as it is thorough without being over complicated. This book is split into the following sections:
Planning Ahead which includes forcing bulbs for Christmas as well as homemade chutneys.
Decorations which includes ideas for decorating your Christmas tree and making wreaths
A Christmas Party which has more flowers and lots of canape recipes
Christmas Eve Recipes from breakfast through light lunch to 3 course dinner
Christmas Day How to do all the essentials including roast goose with interesting ideas and variants for basics such as stuffings
Boxing Day Lots of interesting ideas for using up leftovers
New Year’s Eve with winter dinner party recipes
I’ll be honest this casserole really doesn’t look appetising in the above photo, it looks better in reality but it’s one of those hearty dishes rather than fine presentation. My copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas is well worn now as there are some dishes I make regularly from it, but I’d never tried this before.
One of my guilty trashy tv pleasures is ‘Come Dine with Me’, I tend to dip in and out rather than watch a whole episode and I don’t like the celebrity versions but I realised this had Mrs Moneypenny the FT columnist on it (http://www.ft.com/life-arts/mrs-moneypenny). I loved her columns in the FT and read them regularly from when she worked in Japan, Mrs Moneypenny: E-mail from Tokyo through to her setting up her own company so I couldn’t resist watching. She made this casserole for her guests all of whom were very skeptical before they tried it but liked it when they tried it. I decided this would be a good Christmas eve option. I had my SIL Rachel, her family and my FIL as well as the four of us and I didn’t want to spend ages in the kitchen before dishing up dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t pre-read the full recipe so didn’t notice it start with ‘Begin this the night before’, this meant my meat had minimal marinading time. However it was still lovely and I would make it again.Next time I think I’d reduce the quantity of pickled walnuts and I would marinade. I served this with creamed celeriac and red cabbage as I had plenty of both of these prepared for the next day.
Quantities below serve 10 – 12 people as Delia recommends this for a party.
- 2.75kg diced Vension
- 1.2 litres Guinness
- 275ml Port
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 225g chopped onions
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 x 400g jars pickled walnuts
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp flour
- Salt and freshly milled black pepper
- The night before, place the meat in a large bowl along with the bay leaf and thyme, then pour the guinness and port over it. Put a plate on top to keep the meat pushed down and leave in a cool place overnight.
- Next day, when you are ready to cook the meat, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C). Then melt half the butter and oil in the casserole and heat gently. Drain the meat (reserving the liquid and herbs) and pat the steaks dry with kitchen paper. Now turn the heat to high and brown the meat (in two batches) to a rich brown on both sides. Now add the rest of the butter and oil to the casserole. As soon as it begins to foam, add the onion and brown this for about 8 minutes before adding the garlic and frying for another 2 minutes.
- Now return all the meat into the casserole to join the onions. Stir in the flour to soak up the juices, then pour in the marinade (including the bay leaf and thyme), add the walnuts and season well. As soon as it reaches a gentle simmer, put a lid on, then transfer the casserole to the middle shelf of the oven and forget all about it for 3 hours, by which time the meat will be tender and the sauce marvellously dark and rich.
I made these canapes as a starter for Christmas lunch whilst the turkey was resting. They needed to be made in a hurry so I didn’t zest the lemon and forgot the dill, which is a shame as the garnish does make them look pretty. Generally presentation above is not as good as it could be but they went as quickly as they were made. A quick and easy canape that can make your smoked salmon stretch a bit further.
- 1 lemon
- 200g smoked salmon
- 1 small shallot or onion finely chopped
- Approx 20 ready made blinis
- 1 small pot sour cream
- Small bunch fresh dill
- freshly ground black pepper
I had a pack of minced beef to turn into dinner and couldn’t face spaghetti bolognese. This recipe is a combination of several from the internet. Most were for vast quantities so I reduced down and modified to merge 2 or 3 slightly different approaches. This was more effort than bolognese sauce but not that much and made a very pleasant change. I served with greek salad which is a firm favourite with my teen boys.
- 450g minced beef
- 2 medium onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 400g tinned tomatoes
- Ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp chilli
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs fresh thyme
- 100 ml red wine
- 300g macaroni
- 100g grated parmesan cheese
- 3 eggs
- 20g butter
- 20g flour
- 500ml cream
- Pre-heat oven 180 degrees C
- Brown mince in sauteing pan
- Add chopping onions and fry until translucent
- Add minced garlic and fry another 2 minutes
- Add tomatoes and red wine
- Grate pepper, chilli, allspice and cinnamon into meat mixture and add thyme and cook for 5-10 minutes until not too wet
- In meantime cook macaroni
- Mix cooked macaroni with 2 eggs and layer half on base of casserole. (I used a Le Creuset 23 cm Cast Iron Oval Casserole), then sprinkle on 1/3 of the grated parmesan.
- Carefully pour on the meat sauce.
- Layer rest of macaroni on top of meat sauce then top with with 1/3 grated parmesan
- Melt butter, add flour then whisk in cream and 2 eggs
- Layer white sauce on top and sprinkle final 1/3 parmesan
- Bake in oven for 40-45 minutes until top browned
- Serves 5-6
This recipe won’t win any prizes for stylish presentation but it tastes wonderfully warming on a cold winters day and takes very little effort. It is from Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food. Tom runs the Hand and Flowers in Marlow which we all love although we’ve only ever eaten the set lunches. I went off him some after reading this article http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/nov/08/top-chefs-unite-against-blogger-s-review but I watched one of the tv programmes accompanying this book when he demonstrated this recipe and thought it looked worth a try and the following Sunday I wanted to do a roast but knew we’d be out all morning and this was perfect as it cooks for 4-5 hours at a low heat.
The lamb fat soaks into the potatoes and they are melt in the mouth soft except the top layer which is seriously crispy. I don’t want to think about the calorie value of this dish and it is for that reason only that it will be a few weeks before I cook this again. If the decision was purely taste and ease I’d make it next weekend. There was just enough meat leftover to warm and pop into two pitta breads the next day with some lettuce.
Next time I will layer the onions and potatoes separately so that there are no onions on top as they crisped up a little too much and I shall ensure the top layer of potatoes are small rings so they break more easily.
- 3 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 6 large waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 bunch thyme, leaves picked
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 whole lamb shoulder
- 1 garlic bulb, peeled and separated into cloves
- 568ml/1 pint chicken stock
- cooked green beans or other green veg to serve
- Preheat the oven to 130C/275F/Gas 1.
- In a bowl combine the onions, potatoes and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
- Layer the potatoes and onions in a roasting tin and place the lamb on top skin-side up.
- Cut small incisions in the lamb using a small knife and stick the whole garlic cloves in the holes, pushing them into the meat to prevent them burning while the meat cooks.
- Pour the chicken stock over and place in the oven for 4-5 hours.
- When cooked, remove the lamb from the oven, cover with aluminium foil and set aside to rest for 20 minutes. Optionally pop potatoes back in to crisp up potatoes that were under the lamb.
- Serve with French beans (or any green vegetable of your choice).
I’ve had mixed results from Nigella Express cookbook. Some good, one inedible despite me loving all the ingredients, some ok. Maybe it’s me, this book has lots of great reviews on Amazon. The Scallops & Chorizo was really nice, but given the cost of scallops I think it needs to be spectacular. The combination of chorizo and scallops definitely works but it’s missing something, possibly a hint of chilli ? The chickpeas recipe worked as long as you stir rocket in right at the end so it just wilts, and I may make this again but I didn’t think the chickpeas worked with the Scallops and chorizo, chickpeas are too robust.
Scallops & Chorizo
- 110 grams chorizo
- 400 grams small scallops (halve them to make 2 thinner discs if they are very fat)
- juice of ½ lemon
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Slice the chorizo into rounds no thicker than 3mm / 1/8 inch.
- Heat a heavy-based pan on the hob and, when hot, dry-fry the chorizo round until crisped on either side (the chorizo will give out plenty of its own oil); this should take no more than 2 minutes.
- Remove the chorizo to a bowl and fry the scallops in the chorizo-oil for about 1 minute a side.
- Return the chorizo to the pan with the scallops, add the lemon juice and let bubble for a few seconds before arranging on a serving plate and sprinkling with lots of parsley.
Chickpeas with Rocket & Sherry
- 1 tablespoon wok oil
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 820 grams chickpeas (2 cans) drained and rinsed
- 130 grams rocket (1 packet)
- 1 teaspoon maldon salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt)
- 60 ml cream sherry
- Heat the oil and cumin seeds in a wok.
- Add the chickpeas, salt and sherry and give a good stir.
- When chickpeas have heated through turn off the heat and stir in the rocket until just wilted.
The market were selling off boxes of tomatoes for £2 so I decided to make some soup for the freezer. Here is my version of tomato soup. It is delicious. Roasting the tomatoes brings out the flavour. I made the soup thick but you could add extra stock/water to taste. The quantities below made 4 very generous bowls.
- 2kg tomatoes
- 4 red onions
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 litre Vegetable stock
- Put tomatoes in boiling water and remove skins
- Cut onions into wedges and peel garlic
- Place tomatoes, onions and garlic in roasting trays, drizzle with olive oil and toss until coated
- Tear up basil and place on top
- Roast for 30mins approx
- Blend and add stock to taste