Having just discovered how to post pics - I want to share these. I love coffee and tea and when my Gran died, who was a bit of a tea jenny, I used the money she left me to buy a really nice coffee pot, teapot and sugar bowl and milk jug. I love the shape and the metal pots accompanied with wooden handles. They make a great pot and look pretty too. I am in love with them! They are made by Freud and you can get them from Graham and Green. I got mine from the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre but that might be a bit of a trip!
I love Christmas. Not the commercial Noddy Holder version - the mince pies in front of a fire version. I can be quite puritannical about Christmas - we put up the tree and decorations on Christmas Eve and come down on the 6th January. And Andy won't even talk about Christmas until it is December. No crazy and manic present buying - we take one day off during the week and blitz it. I use brown paper and string to wrap the pressies. But when it comes to teh food - I begin to secretly plan meals and lunches and cakes and all manner of luscious goodies in my head. I scour my recipe books and look out old favourites and seek out new taste bud teasers. for those of us who do the main bulk of cooking and baking, Christmas needs to be thought of with a bit of time to spare.
I love looking out the recipes used year on year (mincemeat, stuffing) and discovering new ones (Nigella's christmas ham looks like it will feature this year for the first time). For me Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, being warm and cosy and eating and drinking things that make you warm inside and taste oh-so-good. And that doesn't mean wolfing down several boxes of Quality Street. I mean proper old fashioned Christmas fayre. The things I am thinking about for this year include:
Home made mince pies Home made Christmas cake with a wee glass of port and some Wensleydale cheese Chipolatas wrapped in streaky bacon Porridge with cream and honey (I have porridge for breakie most mornings but this is special for Christmas) Black Bun Big chunky broths made from proper stock made from the turkey bones and accompanied by bannocks or soda bread Hot chocolate with ginger biscuits And making all the food I usually don't have time to make when I am working
Traditions must be kept. My mum mentioned that she might buy a Christmas cake this year and she got her ear chewed off for it by my sisters and I. My mum's Christmas cake is the best cake ever. It is dark and moist and the fruit is distributed perfectly and you just can't buy what homemade Christmas cake doused in spirits every week tastes like. Anyway, no matter that my mum is a nurse and is busy and has wee brother Theo to look after and the house has the builders in - in the true spirit of Christmas we have ignored all of that and demanded our homemade Christmas cake. You have to understand, it is not that we are extremely selfish and cruel; if there is no Mum's cake then there is no Christmas!
And I love mulled wine. The smell, the warmth, the taste. The mince pie that accompanies it. The feeling of being snug and safe and cared for that you get tucked up in front of the fire after a long walk in the cold, crisp winter air. Sharing this with friends and family. That is what Christmas is to me. And when we have our Christmas dinner and Andy takes our annual 'about to eat teh dinner' picture (laugh if you like, I don't care) and tucks in like someone who hasn't seen food for weeks, I feel that Christmas is complete.
I made this tonight to go with the lasagne - it is in its final five minutes and smells won-der-ful.
3x7g packets of yeast 1oz sugar 1 pint tepid water 1lb strong flour 1lb plain flour 1oz salt Flour for dusting
Dissolve yeast and sugar in half the tepid water In a big, big bowl mix the flours and salt Make a well in the middle and pour in yeast and sugar mixture Pretend taht your hand is a food mixer and using a circular motion swirl your fingers into the bowl and mix everything up Make another well and add the rest of the water and mix as above Empty out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes - I love kneading - good for stress and arm muscle work out! If teh dough sticks to your hands just rub together with some flour and it will come off. Trying to wash it off will just make it stickier. Shape the dough into a round and flour the top and score with a knife - place on a floured baking tray and leave to rise for 45 minutes in a warm place. Dough doesn't like drafts so make sure any windows or doors are closed.
While the dough is rising, you can make your topping. This is my current favourite:
Handful of basil finely chopped Olive oil Half a head of garlic, crushed Cherry tomatoes chopped into quarters
Mix the basil, garlic and oil together. You need about 3 times as much oil as basil. Let it steep while the dough rises for the flavours to develop.
After the dough has risen, you need to knock it back. I do this by punching it just cause it is fun! But you can just knead it if you are more ladylike. Do this for about a minute. Shape into two rounds about 1.5 cms thick. Smear across the top of the dough the basil, oil and garlic mixture. Then, with your fingers, poke the dough and make depressions in the dough - pop a cherry tomatoe quarter in them. This will help the flavours penetrate the dough and sook up the tomatoe juices. Leave to rise for another 45 mintes or until the dough is about 3-4 cms high. Once it has risen, bake for 15 minutes in a hot oven (I use the highest heat on mine) or until golden brown. Leave to rest for 5 mins before serving.
Although this blog is about cooking I like to do other stuff too. I love to make my own greetings cards - although never get enough time to do as much as I would like. So today I am designing samples with my sister Alice for my other sister Emma's wedding. It is lovely but also scary to be asked to do it and so I hope we do a good job.
I need to figure out how to post pics though to show people my cards and cooking creations.
Here are a couple of card craft websites I like to browse and buy stuff from.
Spinach is good for you and pricey so I don't like to waste it. If you have reserved the juice the following sauce is tasty with pasta.
1 white onion finely chopped 2 cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped 1 pepper - red is good for a cheery colour 2-3 slices of parma ham or salami (leave out if making for veggies) Dessert spoon of creme fraiche
Saute the onion and garlic until onion is transulcent. Add the pepper and cook for 4-5 minutes. Chop up the meat and add in - stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the spinach juices, mix and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the creme fraiche, mix and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Cook your pasta as per the instructions until al dente. Remove from the heat, add in the sauce and stir. The sauce should be thin, not gloopy, and coat the pasta. I like to top it off with some parmesan and some cherry tomatoes.
I love lasagne - all that golden cheesey crusty top with an oozy filling inside. I love beef lasagne but for something a bit lighter - well, in taste if not in calories - I also like a veggie version. The spinach makes you feel like you are eating something healthy. This version is great for freezing and the quantities given here will make enough for about 10-12 portions. I buy tin foil dishes to make it in and freeze.
Olive oil One head of garlic crushed 3 white onions finely chopped Roughly 2lbs of spinach (this seems to be about four bags of supermarket wrapped spinach. It may seem like a lot but spinach reduces hugely when cooked) Cereal bowl of parmesan Cereal bowl of mozzarella 2 lbs ricotta Cereal bowl of parsley 4 eggs Either homemade or bought lasagne sauce (white sauce) 1-2 packs of lasagne noodles
Wilt the spinach in a pan at medium heat with a glug of oil. I do this in batches - the spinach seems huge to begin with but does reduce down. I then leave it in a bowl to cool a bit and so the juices collect at the bottom. You want to drain the juices or else the lasagne will be too wet. However, if you want to be good, keep the juices and make a pasta sauce with them for the next night (see next post).
Saute the onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Then add in the spinach and half the parsley and mix up well.
Mix in a bowl the ricotta, eggs, left over parsley and two thirds of the parmesan.
I rushed back up to Dundee on Wednesday so I could see the fireworks with Andy and my sister as we have done for years now - working in Glasgow wasn't going to stop me! And, of course, a hot, comforting supper for us to come home to was top of the priority list. As I was on the train Andy grilled up some sausages and when I got in we put baking potates in the oven to cook while we were out.
The fireworks were great - although walking through the dark in the dark was quite a challenge! And the night was cold but not bone achingly cold - just enough to give us an appetite and appreciate central heating.
Once home, I cut up the sausages and stir fried them with red onion, red pepper and two large potobello mushrooms. For the last minute or so I threw in some cherry tomatoes - I love warmed tomatoes and they provided a juicy addition to the rest of the ingredients. I then served this as the filling to go with the potatoes and a tray of chutneys and relishes. It was a lovely warm dish to tuck into after the bonfire and fireworks.
It also reminded me how good baked potatoes are when they are done properly. One of the things that really annoy me is when cafes or pubs serve half cooked or microwaved baked potatoes. A baked potatoe needs to be fluffy on the inside with a lovely crisp skin on the outside. Don't serve me a baked potatoe that looks like it has been boiled! And I have nothing against blasting it in a microwave to cut down on the cooking time but at least finish it in the oven to give it that oven baked flavour. And if the cheese isn't melting as soon as it hits the tattie then it isn't cooked and shouldn't be served - I have been served it this way so many times I now very rarely order baked potatoes when I am out and about. Well, that is my rant over - viva la baked tattie!