Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Christmas Party

Posted: December 19, 2015 in Christmas, Uncategorized

At this time of year I always like to have people round sharing a cup of something warm or something fizzy.  The great company of old friends, reminiscing about good times, laughing about something silly and feasting on delicious food.  I always try to create a feeling of relaxed abundance – as I too need to enjoy myself!

I was once given some advice for hosting a party;

“The host should move seamlessly between conversations, never seen without a drink in hand, unflustered and in control of the evening.”

A three course, sit down dinner would have me stove side or prepping plates for most of the evening therefore missing out time with my friends.  So the only way I feel I can achieve this is by providing a banquet-style table of food;

something cold, something piping hot, something savoury, something sweet.

Last year I discovered the wonders of a great mulled cider – a warm, welcoming drink to bring you in out of the cold.  If you dislike mulled wine, this is a Christmassy alternative which, in my opinion, is better.

Actually if I think about it, I think I had people round pretty much every evening in the build up to last Christmas just so that I could make a pot of this delicious mulled cider – any excuse!

The warm spice-scented pan of Christmas cider working better than any scented candle spreading wafts of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg throughout the house.

There are staples I return to every Christmas that I know I can create comfortably and without stress – cranberry, chilli and soy glazed sausages, pesto palmiers, spiced nuts and peanut butter cups washed down with my favourite Christmas cocktail, poinsettia; however, this year I created a few different dishes which had everyone ignoring the ubiquitous cured meats and cheese and have made it into my Perfect Christmas Party Banquet.

Christmas Party Banquet:

  • Mulled Cider
  • Poinsettia
  • Smoked salmon and cucumber spoons
  • Glazed ham
  • Cranberry, chilli and soy glazed sausages
  • Chorizo and prawns
  • Chilli con carne
  • Mini New York cheesecakes
  • Cured meats and cheeses

The Drinks

Mulled Cider

500ml dry cider

1 Cinnamon stick

1 Clementine (studded with cloves)
3 Cardamom pods
1 Tbspn soft brown sugar
1 Tspn vanilla paste
1 Cup of Rasberry tea
Splosh of dark rum
2 bay leaves
Rasp of nutmeg

Poinsettia

125mls of Orange Liqueur

500mls of Cranberry Juice

1 Bottle of Prosecco

 

 

How to Mull Cider:
1) Place all the ingredients into a pan and heat gently.  Control the flavours as you go drinking, if it becomes to cinnamony in taste, remove the stick.  The same goes for the cloves.

Poinsettia is dangerously quaffable and you know when you’ve run out of orange liqueur (Cointreau is my favourite) you’re in for a good night!

The Smoked Salmon and Cucumber spoons are a work of mere moments, however, look impressive and taste delicious.

The Food

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Spoons:
IMG_0548 (Edited)How to prepare:

Using a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber into thin ribbons (avoiding the wet, seedy, centre).

Cut the smoked salmon into strips.

Roll the smoked salmon and cucumber together and place on the spoon.

Place a dollop of the dressing on top and decorate with a sprig of fresh dill.

For the dressing:
1 small pot of crème fraîche
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
Handful of chives snipped in
season to taste

IMG_0573 (Edited)Glazed Ham

This has been the first time that I have made a glazed ham. I was incredibly surprised as to how simple it was to create and how delicious it tasted.  I know that boiling a gammon joint and glazing it is neither innovative nor exciting but watching it sat majestically in the centre of the table, pinned to its wooden board, stabbed through its bronzed glaze, slices of pink ham enticing you to slice it again; what a sight to behold.

My guests continued going up for more morsels, even scrapping the board well after the last rounds of cheesecake went down!  Make sure to put little pots of chilli jam, piccalilli, chutney around the table as these are a must with cold cuts.

Simply, boil the ham for 2 ½ hours in your liquid of choice; I favour full fat coca-cola as the sweet-spiced liquid permeates through the meat making it moist and flavoursome.  Once cooked, remove from the boiling liquid and remove the rind which is now pallid and score the bottom layer of fat into diamond shapes.  I stud each corner of the diamond with a clove (as my mother would do) and then spread black treacle, mustard powder and Demerara sugar over the top.  Scorch in a hot oven for 10mins.

Another great alternative is an English mustard and honey glaze.

Chorizo and PrawnsIMG_0575 (Edited)
Drop fat rings of chorizo sausage into a large frying pan with a little olive oil.  Turn on the heat and allow the paprika flavour to render out of the sausage.  Once, this has been in the pan for a few minutes add the grey prawns.  Allow them to turn pink, coating themselves in the paprika juices before adding a good slosh of sherry and season to taste.  Serve immediately.

If cooking this for myself at home, I tend to add freshly chopped parsley before serving, spooned onto a baguette or mixed with spaghetti.

Christmas Chilli con Carne
This year I decided on a huge pot of chilli con carne that guests could help themselves to.  I don’t mean minced beef and a can of kidney beans cooked in a spicy tomato sauce!  As tasty as that could be I wanted it to be a Christmas Chilli Con Carne.

I want diced steak that’s had a few pulses of the food processor.  Spices such as ground coriander, cinnamon and cumin running through the pot.  Red kidney and Borlotti beans.  In a tomato sauced spiked with chilli flakes and melted dark chocolate.

This is a very easy recipe which is ideal to make a few days in advance to allow the flavours to permeate into the meat.  Chill in an airtight container and heat up before serving.

Optional Extra: Serve tortilla chips or flatbread to soak up the juices. 

Dessert

Mini New York Style Cheesecakes

Taken from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com, these cheesecakes were much better to serve than chocolate peanut butter cups. Plus I made them a few nights before and forgot about them in the fridge.  The recipe calls for lemon curd to be drizzled over, however, I thought it more Christmassy to reduce fresh berries (blueberries, raspberries, black currants) to a thick consistency with the taste of boiled sweets.  Mashed and  passed through a sieve to remove any pips.

There wasn’t a single rectangle left!

If inviting friends round this Christmas, my advice when catering for a party is: get organised, sit down with a cup of coffee and make lists.
If like me, the month of December sees you going out for Christmas drinks, office dinners as well as trying to cater for your own party, then you are going to need to have a battle plan.

If there is anything that you can do in advance good; if there is anything that friends can make for you, GREAT!

Plan your cooking times around your social calendar, for example – I made the cheesecake on Thursday evening when I got in from dinner with friends as it needed to be baked, cooled and chilled before being slathered in cream on Friday.  The chilli con carne was made a few days before.

Identify things that need to be made at the last minute, organise them so that they are ready for either cooking or assembling once your guests arrive.

Remember to give yourself time to scrub up and dress for the occasion; no matter how great your food is, no one wants to see their host wearing their culinary efforts!

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After spending the past two weeks catering for a large family, parties and feasting on rich food – suddenly the thought of having to return to a food-routine and creating simple suppers for one is quite daunting.

Since mid December, my diet has generally been three courses (both at lunch and dinner) decadent and full of festive indulgence, or should I say indigestion!  And even now as I sit here contemplating how much I’ve eaten I am still trying to organise another festive offering of food and wine – literally squeezing the Christmas out of the final days of the holidays.

My festive kitchen has had me busy creating the now traditional foodie gifts my friends and family so look forward to, such as chilli jam, cookies in a jar, biscotti and limoncello.  This year saw a few new ideas in the form of gingerbread men mix in a jar, fig and olive chutney, chocolate puddini bon bons and sweet potato and pine nut delights (piezecitas) which I made with friends at what has now become our traditional Christmas cookathon.

An absolute joy to prepare and eat was the smoked salmon terrine that we ate as our Christmas Eve starter and finished off on Christmas Day!  My only comment about this is that it is imperative that your knife is razor sharp as otherwise you won’t be able to make clean slices through the terrine.  A beautiful beef carpaccio, my crème brûlée, plum crumble and deconstructed seafood cocktail were also stars at our Christmas table.

So once the tree comes down and the Wise Men return East I wonder what January will hold for me in my kitchen?

Happy New Year!

Christmas Day is the traditional turkey lunch with all the trimmings and post lunch Queen’s-speech-nap whilst the Brussels work their way through you!  But in many households, Christmas Eve, is more of a party with more people turning up and feasting at a banqueting table of food for everyone to pick at.

I prefer eating (and drinking) this way as no one can keep tabs with how much you’ve had and let’s be honest, Christmas and excess go hand in hand.

Over the past few years I have spent the Christmas holidays in the Uk and the great thing about this is always the plethora of great Christmas party packs that you can buy at high end food shops.  Unfortunately we do not have the same availability here in Gibraltar, so when creating a spread for a Christmas Eve party you need to use some ingenuity and imagination as well as sticking to your confident repertoire of party dishes.

The easy, fallback position is the typical ubiquitous party food: vol-au-vents, mini quiches and huevos rellenos but unless you want to be swigging from Gaviscon bottles before midnight you may need to veer from the pastry-filled retro 80’s.

As the star of the table; instead of a roasted joint we’ve planned for a Beef Carpaccio which will get a crust kissed with chopped rosemary and spiked black pepper with plenty of rock salt.  Sliced as thinly as possible and served with shards of parmesan and a scattering of rocket leaves, a mountain of lamb chops to be dunked in a mint sauce and a decadent salmon terrine (my personal photos to follow of all of the above as those below are taken from various websites).

We first came across Smoked Salmon Terrines as a pre-packed Christmas Day starter but have not been able to find any in the shops this Christmas.  BUT how difficult could it be to make?  Surprisingly it was very simple to put together.

Smoked Salmon, cream cheese, cream, chives and dill, lemon zest and juice & seasoning.

Smoked Salmon Terrine

Ingredients:

·         600g smoked salmon

·         600g cream cheese

·         150ml double cream

·         Zest and juice of a lemon

·         Chives and dill

·         Seasoning

Method:

1st: Line a bread tin or terrine dish with cling film.

2nd: Line the base with a layer of smoked salmon.

3rd: In a food processor, blitz the cream cheese, cream, zest and juice of a lemon, chives and dill.  Season to taste.

4th: Spread a bit of this mixture over the smoked salmon.

5th: Keep making layers, making sure to end with the smoked salmon.

6th: Cover with plastic wrap and place a weight on the terrine – refrigerate overnight.

I know this is going to be special on tomorrow’s banqueting table as earlier I spread the leftover mixture and smoked salmon trimmings over some toast for lunch and it was absolutely delicious.  I chopped some baby prawns into the cream cheese mixture and seasoned well – remember that cream cheese can be very bland and it is this silky quality that makes it a great vehicle to carry strong flavours such as smoked salmon, chives and dill.

I’m sure it will get devoured tomorrow evening!

Merry Christmas

 Gastrorob

Looking through recipe books and scouring websites, there are many Mulled Wine recipes all of them purporting to be “Christmas in a glass” served on stoves next to roaring log fires in Alpine ski lodges but I have to be honest and say that I am glad to have found a cider version of this tradition of mulling drinks.

Christmassy, warming and silky – this drink will kick off any evening to a festive start.

Let’s be honest; mulled wine can sometimes taste a bit like cough syrup!  The first mouthful can be beautiful but every sip from then on becomes one out of politeness and not necessarily enjoyment; I find that the minute it drops below a certain temperature it then actually becomes quite sickly and you’re never sure if a top up would be a good idea or not.

However, mulled cider, still embodying the tradition of a Christmassy spiced, warming drink has none of the negative connotations that mulled wine brings.  It still has the traditional flavours of cinnamon and clove you want at this time of year but they are the subtle backnote to a fruity and fizzy December cocktail.

Mulled Cider

1 Litre of dry Cider

2 clementines

1 Tblspn soft dark brown sugar

A decent splosh of dark rum

A teacup of raspberry tea

4 cloves

3 cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

½ tspn of vanilla paste

A rasp of nutmeg

Method:

1st: Make a cup of raspberry tea and allow to steep for a few minutes. Mulled Cider

2nd: Pour the litre of cider into a saucepan and place on a low heat.  Pick a decent cider – no White Lightning here!

3rd: Cut the clementines in half, some people stud the skin with the cloves.  Add these to the pan.

4th: Crush the cardamom pods under the weight of your knife, and add these, the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and any other spices you wish to the pan.

5th: Pour in the fruit tea, dark rum and vanilla paste.

6th: Add a table spoon of soft dark brown sugar and allow the flavours to infuse.  Serve in a glass with a rasp of nutmeg over.

If at any point the clove or cinnamon become overpowering remove them from the pan.  You have to control this as it really is a matter of taste.

You need to give this recipe a go, especially if you don’t like mulled wine.  I have tinkered with a few ingredients to suit what I had in the cupboard at the time but feel free to go with whatever spice you prefer.  A dare say an apple and cinnamon tea would also be amazing but I used Red Berry Blush which works very well here.

Dangerously quaffable!

As much fun as the run up to Christmas is – the actual event divides us.  The stress of buying presents that outdo the ones you gave last year or the traditional family arguments has everyone bee-lining for the drinks cabinet upon arrival!  And even though you don’t need a manual to overcome the holiday blues, here is my mantra to see you through the ‘Season of Goodwill’ without needing rehabilitation.

All you need to remember is that Christmas is all about tradition.  Food tradition.  

Presents may come and go but ultimately the reunion of family and friends around a table sharing the same food is what is important.  And what stays with you when you grow-up is the familiarisation and comfort that that food tradition brought.

Our family’s food tradition at Christmas, like many other families in Gibraltar (other than the quintessential prawns, cured meats and cheeses plentiful at every Christmas table) was that on 24th December we would have roast leg of pork followed by my Granny’s trifle and on 25th December we would have roast turkey followed by Christmas pudding and custard with Grandpa’s cinnamon-induced-coughing-fits!

Boxing Day is where many families differed.  In our house, so as not to waste the good meat from Christmas Day, we would have croquettas.

A croqueta is a small breadcrumbed fried food roll containing mashed potatoes and ground meat/shellfish/fish/vegetables and mixed with bechamel sauce.

Again – how your family made these is another tradition.  Making a bechamel sauce would make it richer in taste and definitely more decadent but in a bid to use up Christmas roast leftovers, we would use any remaining roast potatoes (usually having to quickly boil some more) and leftover turkey.  I always remember my Mum and Grandpa processing turkey and potato leftovers in one of those 70’s/80’s stand alone beige plastic electric food grinders.  Then shaping the croquetas into sausage shaped rolls and dregging them through breadcrumbs, egg and then breadcrumbs again before frying them in oil.

croquettes

Even now, celebrating Christmas in the Uk our family tradition is kept going.  Leftover turkey and roasties are destined to be Boxing Day croquetas.  More recently I’ve been partnering these with my homemade chilli jam but ketchup is just as great!  

By the looks of it, we’re not the only family to do this, as Antony Worrall Thompson has provided a turkey and ham croqueta recipe in the Daily Mail’s Boxing Day edition. 

So remember, keeping your food traditions is what it is all about.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and wish you the best for the New Year.

So…food gifts…where do you stand on these?

Are you of the, “What a great idea! Such a personal gift made with love”, “Can’t wait to use those preserved lemons in my next tagine” or “Stingy f*****r!”

TV Chefs and food experts try to convince us that a food gift would be a great present to receive – but most individuals would conceive it to be a cheap gift.  Others sense it to be almost like a charity thing, “food gift at Xmas.”  I must agree with the sentiment heralded by chefs, however, must clarify what I mean and would accept by a food gift:

a personalised, bespoke, homemade, carefully packaged gift.

Perhaps not some BHS random jar of something!

Some people may see the idea of a food gift as thrifty and a cheap option – but it is not about the money spent – as buying the ingredients and glass jars/bottles can sometimes be quite costly – and expensive gifts can often be inappropriate or unwanted! For me it’s about sharing with the recipient my time, thoughtfulness and newfound expertise (and clearly none of my humility!)

…BUT…

I do feel that you must know those who you are giving these gifts to well.  As they are going to appreciate your gift and not see it as a cheats way out of Xmas shopping.

Some of my staple gifts are Chilli Jam (which gets pre-orders throughout the year!) and biscotti (often made with a limoncello combo).  This year florentines, peanut brittle and cookie mix in a jar were also part of the food gifts available.

And having given them out to my Christmas Party guests I can’t but hope that they’ve enjoyed every bite and those with children have appreciated the cookies in a jar – which are ridiculously easy to make following the on jar instructions:

Merry Christmas!!

  • In the past, no matter what time we went to bed at and no matter how much toasting to the new year had gone on, someone (Gran and Mum) had to wake up early and get started on preparing and cooking a New Year’s lunch for a family of 7+.  On most occasions, the same food as that on Christmas Day was painstakingly prepared and elaborately presented throughout a lavish meal where no one – not even the dog – could could eat any more.

brussels-sprouts

Buttons ready to pop and the brussel sprouts working their magic, everyone then descended onto the sofa to sleep off the meal as well as the previous night’s excesses.

Then in the evening, even though still full to bursting, a cheese board or sandwich were necessary to stave off the hunger pangs that would then attack during the night.  Or the best one: “I could really do with something sweet,” as you slice into the banoffee pie for the third time!

“Buttons ready to pop and the brussel sprouts working their magic”

However, this year we came up with an alternative idea. Primarily to try to eat with some modicum of sense but also to accommodate a very necessary lie-in. We decided upon starting the day with a New Years Brunch and then having a Roast Dinner for supper.

New Year’s Brunch

  • Ricotta Hotcakes with Strawberries, Raspberries and Blueberries
  • Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagels
  • Cooked Breakfast (scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans and toast)

2013-01-01 12.52.10

Whereas everyone else had juices to wash their breakfast down with I hit the jackpot with my choice of breakfast beverage, CHAMPAGNE!  So as not to encourage the idea that I may appear to be an absolute dipsomaniac please let me explain:  On New Year’s Eve I had put a bottle of champagne (not cava) into the freezer to chill whilst I got on preparing the food for the evening party and forgot about it.  5 hours later when I went to pour out some glasses of bubbly to toast the New Year with the champers was solid!  Thankfully M&S had given us a complimentary bottle for spending so much on food that my actions were not totally disastrous.

New Year’s Supper

  • Scallops and King Prawns San Jacques
  • Roast beef with horseradish gravy, roast potatoes, green veg and Yorkshire Pudding.
  • Warmed Brownies and Ice-Cream (for the kids!)

This was a much more appreciative way of preparing food.  The brunch consisting of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, ricotta hotcakes with summer fruits and champagne was on the right side of decadence to herald in the new year.  The fry-up very necessary at filling us all up until dinner time.

“breakfast with champagne was on the right side of decadence”

New Year’s dinner was delicate and flavoursome, gutsy and well-balanced.  The beef was prepared with a horseradish gravy and cooked rare, potatoes par boiled and then roasted in goose fat served with steamed vegetables.  Below you can find the recipe for my simple Scallops and King Prawn San Jacques.

Scallops and King Prawn San Jacques20130102-231101.jpg

1st: Prepare the bechamel (white) sauce:

  • Bring 300mls of milk to the boil with bay leaves, a couple of rasps of fresh nutmeg, peppercorns and salt.  You can also add a couple of cooking cloves but I tend to leave them out.  Remove it from the heat and leave to infuse for 15mins.  
  • To make it easier to work with I then strain the milk into a measuring jug for easy pouring.
  • Melt a wodge of butter in a saucepan and add 2 tablespoons of flour.  Cook gently, stirring, for 1 minute.  This is now called a roux.
  • On a low heat, add the milk infusion a bit at a time whisking it into the roux before pouring in the next bit.  Continue like this until all the milk is absorbed.
  • If you want to make this a cheese sauce add your cheese at this stage.  Stir it gently until all the cheese has melted.  Take care as this has the tendency to catch on the bottom of the pan if your hob is too fierce or you discontinue stirring.

2nd: In a shallow saucepan, fry the king prawns until pink.  Decant them into an oven dish.

3rd: In the same saucepan, quick fry the scallops for around 30secs a side.  Add these to the prawns in the oven dish.  Cover over with the bechamel sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese &/or breadcrumbs.  Place under the grill until it begins to colour.

If preparing individual portions, try to use the actual scallop shells instead of an oven dish to serve the scallops and prawns.

Delicious…

Happy New Year!