Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Alternative Christmas dinner: Camembert en croute, Christmas pizza and cranberry clafoutis

I love being with my family at Christmas and we all enjoy Christmas dinner. It's the same meal every year, but we look forward to it because it's the ultimate roast with bells on and it never gets boring.

The only down-side for me is that I don't get to do any of the cooking. To combat this if ever I have people round for dinner during the festive period I like to do an alternative Christmas dinner. All the required tastes and components just in a non-traditional manner. This was exactly the motivation for this evening's meal:

Camembert en croute
Christmas pizza
Cranberry clafoutis

Camembert en croute

Fresh out of the oven this really looked quite unassuming.

However, a pair of swift incisions revealed its glory.

This was delicious and worked out far better than I had anticipated. The Camembert had been reduced to a molten flow, the tart but sweet cranberry sauce was a beautiful contrast and provided a real depth. The pastry was crisp giving a real texture contrast. I had planned to use puff pastry but filo was definitely a superior choice. I think it was far lighter than puff and even more crisp.

It was a parcel of delight that kept on giving. Quite frankly, adding a green salad to this would have satisfied me for dinner.

It's not an elegant thing to eat though...

Christmas pizza

I couldn't have been more pleased with this. Out of the oven the aroma was more then reminiscent of Christmas dinner and every bite offered something slightly different. The toppings were roast turkey, smoked bacon lardons, onion stuffing, sausage meat, cranberries and chestnuts. It was everything you could want from a pizza and Christmas dinner!

The genius stroke was using a cauliflower cheese sauce instead of a tomato sauce. This was so good because not only did it allow cauliflower cheese to be included on the pizza but it also meant that the toppings weren't battling a tomato sauce (clearly there's no tomatoes involved in Christmas dinner). The scant few cranberries provided an unusual but welcome occasional sour burst.

Cranberry clafoutis

The remaining cranberry sauce was supplemented with a dash of raspberry gin and provided the base for the dessert. The raspberry goes remarkably well with cranberry adding a light berry freshness. The tart fruit encased in a just sweet-enough smooth set custard with a hint of almond to finish. This was rich and yet light. A great way to finish things off.

All in all, I was quite happy with this meal. Festive flavours delivered in a more than satisfying manner.

On to the recipes.

Cranberry sauce

150g cranberries
75g caster sugar
Zest of half one satsuma/tangerine/clementine
Juice of one satsuma/tangerine/clementine
2tsbp port

1.Put everything in a pan and heat gently until thick and "jammy". This should take about 5-10mins.
2. Decant into a bowl and leave to cool

Camembert en croute

Whole Camembert
7 sheets of filo pastry
2oz butter, melted
Cranberry sauce (see above)

1. Layer four sheets of filo each slathered copiously with butter.
2. Place the Camembert in the middle of the pastry and top with cranberry sauce.
3. Bring the corners of the pastry up and over the cheese to wrap it snugly.
4. Layer up another three sheets of filo and place the cheese in the middle with the join bottom-most. Wrap the cheese, as before.
5. Turn the parcel over (this should put the cheese with the cranberry sauce back on top). and place on a baking sheet.
6. Bake at 180°C for 10-20mins until the pastry is golden.

Christmas pizza

For the base:
225g strong white flour
1 sachet of easy-use yeast
1/2tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil
~125ml water

For the cauliflower cheese sauce:
Half a cauliflower, broken in to small florets
250ml white sauce
100g mature cheddar, grated
1dsp Dijon mustard
For the toppings use whatever represents your Christmas dinner and in whatever quantities you see fit. I used:
~150g roast turkey
80g onion stuffing, moulded into thin discs
2 sausages, skinned and broken into chunks
20g smoked bacon lardons
50g cranberries
5-8 chestnuts, broken into pieces

1. Make the base first. Stir the yeast in to the water. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt.
2. Add the olive oil to the flour and gradually add the water to make a soft dough. Use less or more water, as required.
3. Knead for 10mins and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.
4. To make the cauliflower cheese sauce, steam the cauliflower until just soft ~10-20min.
5. Warm the white sauce and add the cheese and cauliflower. Blitz with a hand-blender and season to taste.
6. Once the dough has risen, knock it back and then stretch out on a baking sheet to make the pizza base.
7. Liberally cover the base with the cauliflower cheese sauce and adorn with your chosen toppings.
8. Drizzle over a little olive oil and bake at 220°C for 20mins

Cranberry clafoutis

100g cranberries
10g caster sugar
~150g cranberry sauce
20ml raspberry-based spirit, if liked
95g plain flour
30g ground almonds
50g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
300ml milk

1. Mix the sugar and cranberries and leave to macerate (~30min).
2. Mix the raspberry liqueur and the cranberry sauce, if using
3. Mix the flour and almonds in a bowl and add the sugar. Whisk together with the milk and eggs to make a smooth batter
4. Butter a 8" pie dish and spread the cranberry sauce over the base and scatter with the cranberries. Pour over the batter.
5. Bake at 180°C for 30mins until just set.
6. Allow to cool slightly and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Bang on trend(?): Whole braised cabbage

There seems to be a growing trend for cooking entire vegetables: celeriac, cauliflower, cabbage and the such. The combination of a family conversation over Christmas, a suitable recipe being printed and the endless time between Christmas and new year has meant that I tried a braised cabbage last night.

It was surprisingly good. The cider, ham and chestnuts were a great accompaniment to the cabbage without overwhelming it. Crucially, though, there wasn't too much cabbage to put you off eating a wedge. It was very satisfying "carving" a whole cabbage too. Oh and more importantly I am now BANG ON TREND!

Definitely give this a go if you're having cabbage; it could convert a cabbage naysayer.

Whole braised cabbage (care of Tom Kerridge)

Savoy cabbage
100ml cider
100ml chicken stock
Bramley apple, peeled
6 garlic cloves, grated
75g butter
Bunch thyme, tied
100g ham, finely chopped
100g, vacuum-packed chestnuts, broken into pieces

1. Discard the large and loose outer leaves from the cabbage and trim the stalk (so that the cabbage will sit flat). Put two metal skewers perpendicularly through the equator of the cabbage.
2. Put the cider and chicken stock in a large pan (large enough to comfortably hold the cabbage) and bring to the boil. As the liquid is heating grate in the apple.
3. Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and add the garlic and butter.
4. Once the butter has melted add the chestnuts, ham and thyme.
5. Place the cabbage on top and baste.
6. Cover and bast every 10mins until cooked through. This may take up to 1hour. Remember test only the outer parts as you won't be eating the dense central core.
7. To serve, remove the skewer and the top layer of cabbage leaves. Place the leaves on the serving platter and top with the cabbage. By doing this the bright green inner leaves will be revealed giving a fresher presentation.
8. Pour the cooking liquor over the cabbage (having reduced if required).
9. Carve and serve!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas presents 2015

As has become tradition, I spent today in the kitchen finishing off edible gifts for the family. This year I made:
  • Salted caramel;
  • Chorizo jam;
  • Chocolate ginger squares; and
  • Cashew caramels
I was a bit worried about the salted caramel as by the time it had got to 170°C it had become slightly bitter. The addition of the cream and salt remedied this though to create a rich and deep spreadable caramel. The chorizo jam is a variant of the now reasonably well-known bacon jam. The tang of the chorizo mixed with sweet makes for an excellent condiment, especially with cheese.
The chocolate ginger squares were a ginger-based rocky road: ginger snaps and crystallised stem ginger encased in dark chocolate. An indulgent treat perfect for ginger-lovers. The cashew caramels turned out to be a fabulous slightly chewy caramel encasing toasted cashews with a hint of salt.

Hopefully they will go down well. On to the recipes:

Salted Caramel (care of A wee bit of cake) - Makes approx one and a half 1lb jam jars

300ml double cream
225g caster sugar
67ml water
3dsp golden syrup
Sea Salt

1. Heat the the sugar, water and golden syrup in a deep, heavy bottomed pan and until it reaches 170°C.
2. While the sugar is boiling warm the double cream in a separate pan until it’s warm but not boiling.
3. Once the sugar reaches temperature take off the heat and carefully pour the double cream in. Take care as the mixture will bubble up.
4. Stir until well combined and set aside to cool.
5. Once cool add 1 tbsp of salt. Add more according to taste.
6. Pour into the glass jars, add a light sprinkling of sea salt and decorate.

Chorizo Jam (care of BBC Good Food) - Makes approximately two jars

500g cooking chorizo, diced
1 large white onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
85g light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp Sherry or red wine vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 shot of espresso coffee or 100ml/4fl oz strong black coffee

1. Fry the chorizo in a large saucepan for about 5mins until golden and crispy at the edges. Remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate, leaving the oil that has been released in the pan.
2. Turn the heat down low and gently cook the onion in the chorizo oil for 15-20mins or until very soft and starting to brown.
3. Stir in the garlic, muscovado sugar, Sherry, maple syrup, espresso and chorizo. Cook slowly for 35-40mins, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy.
4. Turn off the heat, leave to cool a little, then tip everything into a food processor. Pulse briefly to chop everything up into really small pieces, then leave the mixture to cool before packing it into sterilised jam jars.

Cashew Caramels (care of BBC Good Food) - Makes 30-40 squares

375g toasted cashews
125g butter
350ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
400g golden caster sugar
250ml golden syrup
sea salt, for sprinkling

1. Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment and rub generously with vegetable oil. Add half the cashews to the tin.
2. In a saucepan, bring the butter, cream and vanilla to the boil, then remove from the heat.
3. In a large heavy-based saucepan, heat the sugar and syrup on a medium-low heat until it reaches 155°C. Do not stir, or the sugar will crystallise.
4. Turn off the heat and very carefully add to the cream mixture. Stir together and heat again until it reaches 125C on the thermometer.
5. Remove from the heat and pour in the remaining nuts. Quickly pour into the tin, sprinkle over the salt and leave to cool.
6. When firm (after 3-4 hrs), cut into pieces – use a knife that has been dipped into boiling water.
7. Wrap in baking parchment until ready to eat. Will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight tin.

Chocolate Ginger Squares (care of BBC Good Food) - Makes 10-20 squares

300g ginger nut biscuits, roughly crushed
140g crystallised stem ginger, finely chopped
300g plain chocolate
100g butter, diced
100g golden syrup

1. Line a 20 x 30cm tin with baking parchment.
2. Mix the biscuits with most of the ginger, then set aside.
3. Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth and glossy. Pour this over the biscuit and ginger mixture and mix together well.
4. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the reserved ginger, then flatten the top lightly – it doesn’t need to be completely smooth.
5. Chill for at least 2 hrs, or overnight, before cutting into small squares
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