As previously alluded to, we had my best friend Dom and his husband Peter over for some pre-Christmas nibbles and drinks on Friday. We had also invited my lovely friend Chloe but unfortunately in some freak Ikea Circus Tent Pole accident, she had done her back in and couldn’t make it!
I spent the Thursday and most of Friday preparing various different things for it. A lot of them were new to me so I wasn’t entirely confident that a. I wouldn’t totally balls them up and b. that they would taste nice.
I didn’t sadly take photos of everything we made but I did take a few.
I had scoured through various recipe books and looked online for some interesting ideas and things that would be fairly simple to prepare but be a little different. One thing I’d had in my mind for a while was something I had seen on a recent BBC TV series featuring the chef Nigel Slater (who normally I shout at the TV when watching as he can be a little too precious) and a Cotswold farmer Adam Henson (usually seen on Countryfile). The premise of the show was about growing/rearing your own food and generally meant to spread some understanding and kindle some interest in people who may otherwise maybe just get oven ready chicken nuggets and bung them in the oven for dinner night after night. Or the aspiring small holder wanting to raise a few pigs and maybe chickens and perhaps grow some oyster mushrooms on the side. Anyway, I digress. I had seen Nigel make some ‘Sausage Danish’ and having made palmiers for our wedding reception I had some experience of rolling pastry together and it looked rather nice. I had bought a nice little packet of sausage meat from Sainsbury’s which was just the right amount to spread thinly over the (pre-made shop bought) puff pastry sheet. I decided to tweak the recipe just a tiny bit and I toasted the fennel seeds lightly before I put them over the meat. I then also chilled the log of meaty pastry in the fridge for a short while to make it a bit easier to slice. I made mine fairly thick and so took about 20 mins or so in the oven (and I did have the oven at 180C as it is fan assisted.) I have to say they were rather yum and I will definitely make these again!
I also made (no photo – sorry!) some lamb koftes.
They were made simply using 250g of lean mince lamb, half a medium onion grated (oh my eyes! They have never watered more in an onion related incident in my life!), two crushed cloves of garlic, a teaspoon and a half of ground cumin and a about a quarter of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I also toasted up some pine nuts and added them to the mixture and squished it all together till it was a kind of paste like texture and then took small handfuls and moulded them into little torpedo type shapes around some pre-soaked bamboo skewers and left them to chill until I was ready to cook them on the griddle pan. They took just a few minutes on each side and I put them in the oven to heat through nearer the time.
To go with them I also made a yoghurt and cucumber raita dip. Fresh thick plain yoghurt, a handful of fresh mint leaves chopped, grated cucumber (usually it is good to squeeze out excess moisture but I cut the middles out so they weren’t too sloppy!) and some ground cumin, lemon juice and a little lemon zest and some salt and pepper to season. (Sprinkle some chopped mint on the top too to make it look a bit pretty…)
I had also picked up a bag of chipotle chilli and lime tortilla chips so I made some tomato-less guacamole to go with it. One nice ripe avocado, mashed up with a fork – nice to have a few chunks so don’t mash too much. A squeeze of lime juice and a bit of zest, some hot chilli powder (but not too much), snipped up spring onion and some chopped fresh coriander leaves.
Next came some little paneer and herb fritters. For those of you who don’t know, Paneer is an Indian cheese. It is a fairly bland cheese as it is really meant to soak up flavours – a little like tofu really. I usually like it in a curry, like Sag Paneer (Paneer with Spinach) and I have done a version of that where you cube up the paneer, deep fry it for a short time, cook down some ginger, garlic, ground cumin and green chilli and then sweat some spinach leaves on top of that then blend it all together and add some cream and then stir in the paneer (lush). This time the paneer was grated then mixed with spring onion, chopped fresh mint and coriander leaves, seasoned with salt and pepper and ground cumin and then mixed together with a beaten egg. Shaped into walnut sized pieces and then flattened into little round patties and chilled until I was ready to shallow fry them off in some sunflower/vegetable oil. These were nice little morsels and went well with the raita dip too.
I decided to do some little mini jacket potatoes with everything too. Just got some little spuds, pricked them with a fork, rubbed them with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt and then in the oven for an hour at 170C (fan assisted). Then you take out, leave to cool slightly and can cut a cross in the top and squeeze the bottom a bit for them to open up. With them I made a simple cream cheese and chive dip.
Whilst most things were cooking or chilling I marinated some king prawns in some lime juice, lime zest, grated ginger and crushed garlic. They were pre-cooked but I did a little cut down the back of them to help the flavour seep in more and to open up slightly when being cooked. I had threaded three a piece onto some pre-soaked mini bamboo skewers. Throughout the day I spooned over the marinade just to keep them moist. Then when we were ready to eat I simply cooked them for a few minutes on the griddle pan and finished them off with some lime butter in the pan. They had a nice delicate ginger flavour to them and even Dom ate some (he isn’t the biggest prawn fan in the world.)
I then went for something most people have probably not tried at home. I smoked my own chicken (and no – that’s not a euphemism for something.) I had picked up some chicken breast steaks as they were thinner than regular chicken breasts. Using my grill pan I took the wire rack out and lined the base of the pan with foil and then sprinkled over some rice, brown sugar, some Chinese five spice powder, emptied the contents of several tea bags (including earl grey) and mixed together. I put the rack back in and covered that with foil. Then put the pan on the hob and heated it up – when it started to smoke I put the chicken on – a little drizzle of olive oil and then covered the whole thing with yet more foil. I also put the fan on over the hob, opened every window ever and shut the kitchen door and left it to do it’s thing for about 15 mins. I have previously done this sort of thing with duck legs – where I smoke them for about 20 mins, then they get an aromatic spice rub and go in the oven for a while, but I’d not done it with chicken before. I came back into the smoke filled room and took the foil off and there was some very lovely brown smoky looking chicken. I took it all off the heat and left the chicken to rest for a short while before slicing. I then popped it into the fridge for a while and used it to make some little chicken and mango salad bites using mini gem lettuce leaves. Although in hindsight it might have been nicer had the chicken still been warm. But the smoky flavour was nice and not too overpowering.
My lovely husband also made a rather nice tomato, basil and mozzarella salad (Italian’s usually call this Insalata Caprese). I didn’t take a photo but it looked lovely (and tasted lovely too!)
Dessert was mainly a mixture of a few different things, some shop bought Lebkuchen biscuits, shop bought mini mince pies (I even ate one…), and these yummy chocolate covered pretzels done by my husband.
Drool… white chocolate covered pretzels
I had also decided to try to make something I had never attempted before. Marshmallows.
I have a bit of a fear of cooking sugar. I am always thinking I am going to not pay attention to the sugar thermometer and get it all horridly wrong and end up with either a gooey mess or some sort of rock solid sugary mass welded to my cookware. However, it turned out OK! I thought about doing something a little different so decided to flavour them with earl grey tea.
I made up 120ml of tea and let it cool and then added it to 23g of powdered gelatine in a mixer and left it to ‘sponge’ (the gelatine absorbs all the liquid). Meanwhile I heated up 440g of caster sugar and 160ml of golden syrup in a pan with just enough water to cover it. Stirring to ensure it all combined and then left to heat up until it reached at least 130C – at the most 140C (soft crack). Take it off the heat for 1 minute and then start whisking the gelatine mixture (best to do this in a proper mixer like a Kenwood) and then slowly pour the sugar down the side of the mixing bowl (don’t let it touch the whisk or you will regret it with horrid shards of sugar in your mixture.) Keep whisking on a medium speed and you will see the mixture start to thicken up like egg whites. Keep going until it starts to strand across the surface a bit like bubblegum. Then line a tray with greased cling film (make sure it is super greased!) and pour out and use a greased spatula to help. Then cover with some more greased cling film and leave to chill and set for a few hours. When you are ready – use a greased knife to cut it into cubes. Mine was so super sticky it was like wrestling with an angry cat covered in jam. I ended up using wet hands to coax it apart. I had whizzed up some pistachio kernels to a fine grit and mixed with some cornflour and used this to roll my ‘cubes’ into. Then put into an airtight container to store. The ones I tried right after making were still rather gooey but tasty. The next day they had firmed up and were light inside. I did take (a rather bad) photo of them!
I also decided to make a little foodie present and got some rather fabulous retro Kelloggs cereal tins to put them in. I made a batch of brazil nut bread – which is like biscotti in a way. I roasted up 60g of brazil nuts until golden, put in a towel and leave for 5 mins and then rub the skins off with the towel. Then whisk up 3 egg whites (and a pinch of salt) and take 90g of caster sugar and add half while whisking and then fold the other half in. Then sift 90g of plain flour together with some cinnamon and grated nutmeg. I also used some ground cardamon. Then fold that into the egg whites and add the nuts. I used some mini loaf tins and the mixture filled three of the loaves.
I then cooked them for about 30 mins at 180C and left them to cool. You then have to wrap them in foil and chill for 24 hours (or you can freeze them until you are ready). Once chilled you then slice them thinly and bake at 150C for about 15 mins each side. They are really good to have with a coffee!
I also decided to make some honeycomb – another first for me. It is a pretty simple recipe – 125g of caster sugar and 25g of light brown soft sugar heated up together with 4 tbsp of golden syrup. Stir together to ensure they are combined and then once the mixture is all bubbling and golden you take it off the heat and chuck in 1 tbsp of bicarbonate of soda and stir it all together quickly and then pour into a lined greased tin (I used my silicone cake tin so didn’t grease and it came out fine.) Then you leave it to harden. I then broke it up into pieces – some bits did just turn to sugary dust but I did get some decent chunks out of it. I then melted some dark chocolate and then dipped the honeycomb partially into the velvety goodness and left them to set.
With the other bar of dark chocolate I had, I decided to melt down and add a few drops of cola flavouring. I took some of the smaller crumbs of the honeycomb and put them onto some greaseproof paper on a baking tray along with some pieces of crystallised ginger and poured the chocolate over it and spread it thinly and then sprinkled some more of the ginger and honeycomb on the top and put it in the fridge to set before breaking it up for some lovely chocolate bark to have with coffee. It smells divine!
We were also given some lovely lemon snowball shortbreads from Dom who has also cunningly blogged about it on his lovely food blog – Kingdom of Appetency.
I had also spent most of Friday with my hair in bendy rollers – so had rather crazy hair by 7pm.
All in all the evening went well (as well as could be without Chloe) and helped along by glasses of pink fizz, ginger flavoured beer (a lovely chilled bottle of Blandford Flyer by Badger Ales) and Raspberry Ginger Beer!
I had a lovely thank you card from them and also a stupendous pavlova made by Pete (he is the King of Meringue!)
The next thing to do now is to head over to Dom & Pete’s tonight for a lovely Christmas Eve meal with them – a nice baked ham. Really looking forward to it! Then of course – Christmas Day! Yay!
Which reminds me – I must get our Poussin out of the freezer for our Christmas Dinner tomorrow!
Wishing everyone a lovely Christmas!