Christmas

Baklava

When on holiday in Corfu this year, we happened upon a very traditional restaurant that was mainly frequented by locals and would have been pretty much impossible to find except via boat. We visited this fabulously authentic restaurant twice, enjoying the food as much as the sea view over a rickety wooden pontoon. At the end of each meal, we were presented with the most delicious baklava – a dessert widely recognised as the national dessert of those countries that made up the Ottoman Empire. I’ve always liked baklava but this homemade version knocked any shop-bought pretender into touch. It was the family’s grandmother whose job it was to create the dessert for the restaurant’s guests each day. I vowed there and then to do my best to replicate the gorgeousness that was that dessert and this comes pretty close. It’s easy to make but sooooooooo bad for you!!!!

Serves 8

What you need…

1 x 20 cm round baking tin, lightly buttered

6 filo pastry sheets, cut in half to create 12 squares (approx 25cm)

150g chopped nuts – walnuts, pistachios and almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cloves

125g (!!!!!) butter, melted

for the syrup

300g sugar

200g water

40g honey

Zest of one lemon

1 cinnamon stick

What to do…

Pre-heat oven to 150°c / 300°f / gas 2

Melt the butter over a low heat, being careful not to burn it.

In the baking tin, lay one layer of filo pastry, then sprinkle melted butter over it. Repeat this process until you have used six sheets of pastry. You will have corners of pastry hanging over the baking dish – roughly fold them in and sprinkle them with butter.

In a bowl, mix together the chopped nuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Sprinkle half the mixture over the filo sheets and then add five more layers of filo pastry and sprinkled butter until you have just one sheet of pastry remaining. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture on top of the pastry layers and then top with the final pastry sheet – don’t forget to sprinkle over the butter. Again, fold in the overhanging corners and sprinkle with more butter.

Place the baklava in the fridge for 15 minutes to make it easier to cut into portions. Remove from the fridge and, using a sharp knife cut the pastry all the way down into eight portions.

Place the baklava on a low shelf in the oven and bake for 1½ hours, until the pastry is crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Into a small saucepan, mix together all the ingredients and bring to the boil. Boil for about 2 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Don’t stir the syrup – it can go lumpy if you do. As soon as the baklava is baked, ladle over the some of the hot syrup. Once it has been absorbed, ladle over some more and repeat this process until no more can be absorbed – there’s usually a bit left in the pan but rather too much than too little!

Let the baklava cool down and serve – to die for (literally, with all that butter and sugar!) Simply divine!

Inspired by…

A grandmother in Corfu and a lot of Internet research!

How easy…

Very easy. The outcome far outweighs any effort anyway!

 

 

 

Turkey Wellington

This is a brilliant way to serve turkey if you just fancy the breast – it can be made a day in advance (so therefore reducing the pressure if you’re entertaining a crowd), looks and tastes amazing; and the meat is really moist. Thumbs up all around really!

Serves 8-10

What you need…

for the cranberry sauce

The following fabulously festive, tangy sauce makes more than enough for the Turkey Wellington, to serve as its accompaniment at the meal and perhaps, to get out again with cold turkey and gammon slices the next day.

300g fresh cranberries

200g caster sugar

45ml Kirsch

75ml water

for the wellington

1.6 kg turkey breast, skin off

Sea salt and black pepper

Olive oil

1 large bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked

Cranberry sauce (as above)

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped

3 sprigs rosemary

600g mixed mushrooms, cleaned

1 knob butter

2 teaspoons truffle oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

What to do…

For the cranberry sauce, chuck all the ingredients into a saucepan on a moderate heat and let it all bubble away until the cranberries start to pop (about 10 minutes), stirring every now and then.

Squish the berries with the back of a wooden spoon and then transfer the whole lot to a serving bowl. Leave to cool (the sauce will thicken up to an almost jelly-like consistency). It is now ready to use. This can be made several days in advance – it keeps really well in the fridge for a week.

For your wellington, preheat your oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.

Place the turkey breast upside down on a board and gently slice into the natural join of the breast muscle to open it out and make a pocket – Jamie says to just do this but for some reason I managed to make two pockets – it doesn’t really matter – read on and you’ll see why. Rub olive oil all over the breast and particularly in the pocket(s). Season well and then sprinkle over half the thyme leaves, again ensuring that the pocket(s) get lots. Push cranberry sauce into the pocket(s), poking it in as far as it will go and filling up the space. Fold it back into shape and use cocktail sticks to ‘stitch’ the pocket seams together. If you can, roll the turkey breast up, swiss roll style. If it won’t comply, don’t worry about it – mine didn’t!

Either way, transfer the turkey breast to a baking tin making sure that it is covered in oil, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the remaining thyme. Cover with foil and pop in the oven for 60-70 minutes until just cooked through – using a thermometer, you want it to be 72°c at the thickest point. Once cooked, set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, pop the bacon into your food processor and whizz until chopped up quite small. Splash some olive oil into a large frying pan on a medium heat and, using a spatula to get every last bit of bacon out of the processor bowl, add the bacon to the pan, cooking for 5-10 minutes until golden and really crispy. Strip the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and add to the pan for a minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and rosemary from the pan and set aside to cool.

Pop the mushrooms in your food processor and whizz until they are chopped up quite small. Add another splash of oil to the frying pan if there isn’t enough fat left behind by the bacon, tip in the mushrooms, a splash of water and sauté for 10 minutes. Melt in the knob of butter and set the mushrooms side to cool. Once cooled, season with salt and pepper mix in the truffle oil. Taste the mushrooms to see if you want any more seasoning or oil.

When all the elements for the Turkey Wellington are cool, prepare for the assembly! Lightly butter a baking tin large enough for the breast.

Dust your work surface with flour and roll out one 500g block of puff pastry so that it is roughly 6cm bigger than the turkey breast all round. Roll out the second pastry block so that it is large enough to cover the breast and some.

On the smaller piece of pastry, spread out 1/3 of the mushrooms onto the middle to cover an area the same size as your turkey breast. Remove the cocktail sticks and place the breast on top. Spread the remaining mushrooms all over the top of the turkey breast, packing it in and smoothing it out as you go. Sprinkle on the crispy bacon and rosemary, then brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Lay the second sheet of pastry over the top, gently mould it around the shape of the breast, pushing all of the air out and seal together. Trim the edges to around 4cm, then pull, twist, tuck and pinch the pastry together.

Brush the whole thing with beaten egg and shove it in the fridge uncovered overnight until you’re ready to cook. Clear up, pour wine, relax.

When it’s time to indulge, cook at 180°c / 350°f / gas 4 for 50 – 60 minutes or until risen, puffy and beautifully golden. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving this fabulous, all dressed up bird! Serve with turkey gravy and enjoy – you can’t fail to – absolutely gorgeous!

Inspired by…

Jamie Oliver showed me the Turkey Wellington recipe on his ‘Christmas with Bells On’ series and the Cranberry Sauce is care of Nigella.

How easy…

It is easy but it takes time and patience. The joy of it is preparation a day ahead of the actual eating – it makes it worth every moment of prep and it really is very delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sumptuous Chocolate Brownies

Dark, slightly gooey, indulgent little squares of naughtiness: there’s nothing quite like a good chocolate brownie and this recipe is gorgeous, easy and quick – lovin’ it!!!

Makes 20

What you need…

250g unsalted butter

200g 70% dark chocolate

80g cocoa powder, sifted

65g plain flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

360g caster sugar

4 large free-range eggs

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.

Lightly butter and line a 24cm square baking tin with greaseproof/parchment paper. Roughly break up your chocolate and pop it into a large heatproof bowl together with the butter. Put the bowl over a steamer, sitting in a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the butter and chocolate, mixing until smooth.

In another bowl, thoroughly mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar.

Take the melted butter and chocolate mixture off the heat and stand the bowl on a tea towel on your worktop (to prevent the bowl slipping). Add the dry ingredients to the bowl, mixing them in thoroughly.

Whisk the eggs and then tip them into the rest of the mixture, whisking them in until you have a lovely silky, glossy smooth mixture.

Pour your brownie mix into the baking tin and place in the oven for around 25 minutes. When done, your sumptuous chocolate brownies should be slightly springy on the outside but still gooey in the middle.

Allow to cool in the tin, then carefully transfer the bake to a large chopping board and cut into chunky squares. Purely for quality control reasons, now is a good time to try one – just to make sure that they are OK – and ooooooooh, yummy, reach for another…

Inspired by…

Jamie Oliver

How easy…

Dead easy!

Christmas Mincemeat Bread and Butter Pudding

 

If you have friends popping around for lunch (as I did today) close to Christmas and you’ve already over-extended yourself on the ‘to-do’ list (as I do, repeatedly), this is the perfect dessert – it’d dead easy, really lovely and very Christmassy but light. You can knock it up in a jiffy and it cooks itself whilst you’re enjoying your main course. A bonus is the scent of Christmas that wafts through the house as it’s cooking!

Serves 6

What you need…

18 x 23cm baking dish, about 5cm deep, lightly buttered

6 slices bread from a large loaf

50g softened butter

3 rounded tablespoons mincemeat

60ml milk (or Oatly if you want to cut down on dairy)

60ml double cream (or the Oatly version)

3 large eggs

75g caster sugar

1 tablespoon demerara sugar

25g candied peel, finely chopped

What to do…

Pre-heat oven to 180°c / 350° f / gas 4.

Generously butter the bread slices on one side, then spread the mincemeat over three of them and put the other three slices on top, effectively creating mincemeat sandwiches. Spread the rest of the butter across the top slice of each sandwich and cut each one into quarters to make little triangles.

Arrange the triangular sandwiches, butter side up, overlapping each other and almost standing upright in the baking dish.

Whisk the milk, cream, eggs and caster sugar together and pour the mixture over the bread, ensuring that all the bread is moistened. Scatter the candied peel over the top with demerara sugar. Pop in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes until it’s puffy and golden – the Christmas smell as it’s cooking is wonderful.

Serve your Christmas mincemeat bread and butter pudding straight away, perhaps with a little double cream and a whole bunch of festive cheer!

Tip…

Try different breads, rather than just plain white – there are some lovely festive loaves in the supermarkets at the moment.

Inspired by…

Delia Smith (this is essentially my version of her Chunky Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding but with the Marmalade replaced by mincemeat!

How easy…

It couldn’t be easier: an absolute gift during the festive season!

 

 

Anglo Italian Trifle

If one could describe a dessert as voluptuous in flavour and totally indulgent, this would be it. Amaretti and sweetend mascarpone rather than cream give this trifle an Italian twist, something which is emphasised by the Limoncello that it is laced with. Definitely naughty but difficult to say no to a second helping. This Anglo Italian Trifle is best enjoyed with a group of rowdy, hedonistic friends after a dribbly lunch or dinner or as the perfect alternative (or addition) to Christmas Pudding.

Serves 12

What you need…

1 x pretty, 2-litre glass trifle bowl

8 trifle sponges

1 jar of blackcurrant jam

100g Amaretti biscuits, plus a handful for the topping

300ml Limoncello

600g frozen fruits, defrosted: summer fruits work well

2 eggs, separated

100g caster sugar

750g mascarpone cheese

What to do…

Split the trifle sponges and make into sandwiches with the jam; then wodge them into your trifle bowl. Crush the Amaretti biscuits in your hand and sprinkle them all over the trifle sponges then pour over 180ml Limoncello.

Tip the fruit over the sponges and Amaretti, perhaps arranging the bigger attractive fruit around the edges – for presentation purposes – you’ll be able to see them through the glass.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Put to one side.

In a large bowl, use an electric whisk to whisk together the egg yolks and caster sugar until the mixture is thick and smooth . Still whisking, slowly add 60ml of Limoncello, creating a light, moussey mixture. Whisk in the mascarpone until everything is smoothly combined. Add the remaining Limoncello and give the mixture a final whiz with the electric whisk. Tip in the egg white and fold in with a balloon whisk – this makes the mascarpone ‘cream’ lovely and airily light.

Dollop the mascarpone ‘cream’ on top of the fruit and gently, spread it a little, creating little soft peaks.

Cover the trifle and and pop in the fridge overnight, allowing all the flavours to gather and the Limoncello to permeate the fruit, sponges and Amaretti, mingling with the fruit to create sheer yumminess.

About one hour before you want to plunge the spoon into your delectable dessert, take it out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Just before serving, crush the remaining Amaretti biscuits and scatter over the top of the trifle. (We have also decorated our with birthday candles and made it a very special birthday cake). Your Anglo Italian Trifle is now ready to be demolished! Just gorgeous!

Tips…

Change the fruit to reflect the season.

Keep tasting the mascarpone cream as you add the Limoncello – I like my trifles quite boozy – you may want a little less alcohol….or perhaps a tad more!

Inspired by…

Nigella Lawson

How easy…

Dead easy: no cooking, more of an assembly job with a bit of whisking but it looks and tastes spectacular!

Chocolate Candy Christmas Chalet

Ok, so for this one, I’m not going to list the ingredients or the process, but rather, just give you the link to the youtube video – it’s much easier to see how this lovely lady makes her chocolate candy Christmas chalet than for me to explain it. She makes it look unbelievably easy but I have to say, I did struggle rather – my first roof collapsed, I forgot to cut out a door and my window sills kept sliding down the walls. All that said, I’m sure that someone more experienced in a bit of cake decorating would find this really easy. In the end, I wasn’t too disappointed with my effort. The lovely lady on the youtube video made a Christmas house; mine is more of a rustic chocolate chalet! Anyway, it tastes great and we have a large plastic box in the fridge full of all the left over chocolate, so happy days! If you give it a go, enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmg7WRtgOlU

Christmas Mincemeat and Mince Pies

Before this blog, it had never occurred to me to make either my own mincemeat or my own pastry. The latter happened for the first time last week and as for mincemeat – I am a total convert. It’s spectacularly simple and fills the house with festive fragrance as it gently cooks in the oven. I did struggle with the pastry (too short apparently, according to John – the pastry, not me!) but wow! I can honestly say that these mince pies are the best I’ve ever tasted – it’s not my cooking, but the fantastic recipes!

for the mincemeat

Makes 2.75kg (6 – 7 jars, I used a collection of different sized jam jars!)

What you need…

450g cooking apples, cored, left unpeeled and chopped small

225g suet

350g raisins

225g sultanas

225g currants

150g cranberries

225g candied peel, finely chopped

350g soft dark brown sugar

Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

50g flaked almonds

4 teaspoons ground mixed spice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 tablespoons brandy/cognac

for the sweet shortcrust pastry (makes about 12 mince pies)

1 x 12-hole tartlet tin, lightly buttered

125g unsalted butter

65g icing sugar

1 egg yolk

250g plain flour

1 – 2 teaspoons water

for the finish

1 egg, lightly beaten

icing sugar to dust

What to do to make the mincemeat…

The evening before you want to cook the mincemeat, combine everything, except the brandy/cognac, in a large casserole, stirring the ingredients in as you add them to make sure that they are thoroughly mixed. Pop the lid on and leave in a cool place overnight to allow the flavours to gather.

The following morning, preheat the oven to 120°c / 225°f / gas ¼.

Pop the casserole, with its lid on, into the oven and cook for 3 hours.

Remove from the oven and over the next few hours, whilst it is cooling, give it a little stir every now and then to make sure that the now melted suet is evenly distributed and coating the other ingredients, rather than being separate.

When it’s cold, stir in the brandy and spoon into clean jars with lids/seals. Keep your Christmas mincemeat in a cool, dark cupboard until you are ready to make your mince pies.

What to do to make your mince pies…

Mix together the butter and icing sugar until they are completely blended. Add the egg yolk and then the flour. Kneed until you have a smooth dough. If you’re struggling to get it to stick together, add a little water and continue to knead. Leave to rest for at least 1 hour before using.

Preheat the oven to 190°c / 375 °f / gas 5.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a little less than 5mm thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out 12 rounds slightly larger than the tartlet moulds for the pie bottoms and gently push them in. Fill them with mincemeat. Using a cookie cutter 2 sizes smaller than the first, cut another 12 rounds for the lids. Brush a little beaten egg around the edges of the lids and stick them to the top of the mince pies. Brush with little more egg and then, using a sharp knife, cut a little hole in the top of each one to allow the steam to escape during cooking.

Bake for around 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack and when cool, sprinkle liberally with icing sugar.

Take a bite and absolutely relish the abundant gorgeousness of these festive treats – a good reason to have Christmas all year around! Once you’ve made your first Christmas mincemeat and mince pies, you’ll never revert to shop-bought again!

Tip…

Ideally, make your mincemeat in October/November. Stored in a cool place, it will keep for months and just needs to be brought out whenever you fancy a quick batch of festive loveliness!

Inspired by…

Team effort here: mincemeat by Delia Smith; pastry from Raymond Blanc

How Easy…

On the mincemeat, very little effort for such a lovely outcome. I nearly gave up on the pastry as it kept falling apart when I stuck to the original recipe. The addition of a little water resolved the issue and it was worth persevering.

 

 

Baked Glazed Gammon

 

For many years now, we have reserved the baked gammon for Christmas Eve. When the present-wrapping is all done and all the preparation is finished for the big day, it’s time to sit down for hot gammon sandwiches in squishy, chunky fresh bread, washed down with a glass of fizz. The aroma of this wonderful dish cooking in its final stages is something I will always associate with Christmas but we do sneak it in a couple of other times throughout the year. The spirit of Christmas should be with us all year around, after all!

Serves 8 with left overs

What you need…

1 x unsmoked gammon joint, weighing about 4 kg

1 carrot, cut in half

1 onion, cut in half at root

1 celery stick

1 bay leaf

10 peppercorns

for the glaze

8 tablespoons good quality marmalade

2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard

2 tablespoons black treacle

A handful of cloves

What to do…

Soak the gammon overnight if you’re having it for lunch or all day if you are having it in the evening. Discard the soaking water before starting.

Put the gammon in a large saucepan, cover with water and add the carrot, onion, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to the boil, cover and then turn down the heat to a low simmer for 2¾.

Pre heat the oven to 180°c / 350f / gas 4

When the gammon is cooked, remove from the cooking water and set aside to drain.

Make the glaze by mixing all of the ingredients (except the cloves) together in a bowl.

Cut the rind off the gammon, leaving a thin layer of fat. Score the fat diagonally in a criss-cross pattern and then stud with cloves all over. Put the gammon in a roasting tin, brush/spoon over the glaze and bake for about 30 minutes until sticky and golden. The smell will make you swoon! Serve your Baked Glazed Gammon with warm gorgeous doorstep bread and salted butter. Yummy!

Inspired by…

Lisa Faulkner

How easy…

The easiest baked gammon recipe I have tried and soooooo delicious!

 

 

Espresso Martini

Discovered by my son when we went out to dinner to celebrate exam results, the wonderful Espresso Martini presents itself in all innocence but it is, in reality, deliciously naughty and has the potential to knock your socks off!

Serves 2

What you need…

100ml vodka

70ml Kalhua/coffee liqueur

2 shots espresso coffee

Ice

Cocktail shaker

Two Martini glasses

What to do…

Pop the Martini glasses in the freezer whilst you make the cocktail.

Tip all the ingredients into the cocktail shaker and shake, shake, shake, smashing up the ice in the process and making this cocktail fabulously chilled.

Pour into your Martini glasses and watch as the cocktail separates to top the dark lushness with a creamy espresso top. Pass one glass to your drinking companion, sip and indulge. Delicious and soooooo naughty. A rich, sweet ice-cold coffee with a tangible kick. The only problem is that it’s quite difficult to put the glass down – just one more sip…

One, however, is probably enough!

Inspired by…

Jamie Oliver has published the recipe together with a lovely anecdote as to its creation but we first tried it at the Windsor Grill.

http://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/how-to-make-espresso-martini/#5PRtRiJY4pj2CjL6.97

http://www.windsorgrill.co.uk

How Easy…

Ridiculously!