Archive for December, 2009

December ‘Meanderings’ …

Pictured (top to bottom)
Christmas Chutney
Last Minute Mincemeat & Mince Pies
 Crunchy Cheese Biscuits

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We were a bit short on the usual Christmas decorations in the home this year but I have made up for it with the Christmas cooking.  In the end time caught up with me and I didn’t make everything I had planned:  it was the shortbread and Christmas pudding ice cream that didn’t happen.  Another year …   Christmas (which literally translates Christ Celebration) was lovely – and peaceful – and tasty!       

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Almost all my posts in December have been connected with Christmas.  This year I made my own Cranberry (and orange) Relish and some delicious spicy Christmas Chutney.  There were some Sloes in the freezer, so I made a bottle of Sloe Gin at the start of December which was just ready for drinking on 25th.   It is such an easy job to do and the result is absolutely delicious.  My Christmas baking included several batches of Mince Pies using Last Minute Mincemeat.  I also made my usual rich fruit cake, using my Nanna’s handed down recipe, finished this year with a cherry and nut Florentine topping, an idea taken from the November/December 2009 Tesco instore free magazine.  I will post the recipe and pictures of toppings for various Christmas and Simnel cakes at some point.  I also made the usual loaf of Stollen for Christmas morning, but for the first time this year I made the Marzipan (Almond Paste) used for the Stollen centre as well.  It was very easy, plus I was pleased as knew it was additive free. This has to be a must for Christmas from now on, especially as it can be made a week or two before it is needed.  After a hunt I managed to get a recipe for Lebkuchen from a friend.  The spicy slightly chewy biscuits, covered in white icing or chocolate, were a great success and I will be making them in future years, although I think I would add a little more spice next time. 

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I added just two post Christmas recipes: St Stephen’s Pudding, a recipe from Delia Smith, which in our house we usually eat on St Stephen’s Day (26th December) and Turkey Flan with Leeks & Cheese, a great way for using up some of the meat left over from Christmas day.  Finally, for nibbles at the Christmas and New Year buffet table there were Crunchy Cheese Biscuits: more-ish little cheesy bites.  Tasty and time consuming to make, be warned, but great for keeping small children occupied I imagine, if you let them loose with the pastry cutters.  All good food, but not for dieters – never mind!    

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For a full list of postings since my December Meanderings see below. (Recipes already posted have been highlighted and the others will appear in coming weeks.)        

December Recipes …

Christmas Chutney
Cranberry & Orange Relish
Crunchy Cheese Biscuits
Gingered Glazed Ham
‘Jolly’ Ginger Biscuits
Last Minute Mincemeat & Mince Pies
Sloe Gin
Sweetcorn Pancake Fritters
St Stephen’s Pudding
Turkey Flan with Leeks & Cheese        

Back to basics:
Basic Recipe: Marzipan (Almond Paste)           

Read Meanderings ‘a la carte’ from previous months         

Looking back over 2009, or at least for the months since March when I started to write these food posts, it has been an interesting journey. In particular I was not aware of the variety of items I have cooked and the recording here has, I’m sure, made me research and experiment more. Great fun for me and, I hope, a good experience for my long suffering family who have often had to wait just a bit longer than normal as I photograph their dinner!     

There have been a few ingredient surprises as well: I had never heard of Sumac powder, Dulce de Leche or Orzo pasta, but have now bought and used them all (recipe for Grilled Chicken with Sumac & Roasted Banana, Toffee Apple Croissant (Bread & Butter) Pudding (Dulce de Leche recipe) and recipe for Greek Style Meatballs with Orzo to follow eventually).  I have also discovered how using dried orange peel can enhance the flavours of Mediterranean dishes and have posted my version of Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale which includes this as an ingredient.   

I have done some research and on 1 January there will be a list of my top 10 posts of 2009, as viewed by my visitors. Thank you for visiting to ‘meander’ through my cookbook.  Please do come back again to see what’s cooking in my kitchen as I continue my ‘meanderings’ in 2010.  Read on to see what I have in store for January …  

‘For what we are about to receive…’ January 2010 and beyond

Food Focus – Warming Soups & Stews for Winter – Beans & Pulses
Recipe Books:
…from my shelf
– Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cookbook (see Posts/Recipes)
…from the Library – Women’s Institute Soups for all Seasons by Liz Herbert
Non Fiction Food bookIn the Devil’s Garden: a sinful history of forbidden food by Stewart Lee Allen (I still have this on long loan from the library and plan to get back to it now life is a bit less busy.  It’s one of those ‘dip in and read a bit at a time’ books, so I will leave it out and do just that.)          

At New Year I have promised to make a family favourite, a Sherry Jelly Berry Trifle, so that will be the first post of the New Year.  After that, as we enter the coldest months of the British Winter I will add some lovely warming soups.  There is nothing better than a comforting bowlful of soup on a chilly day and I have found the perfect soup recipe book, the Women’s Institute Soups for all Seasons, which has plenty of tasty sounding recipes.  Good hearty stews too, some with beans and pulses – good comfort food.  The Farmhouse Kitchen Cookbook is a tried and trusted book I have had for many years and I know there will be some good ideas inside.  Chicken & Rice Casserole is just one delicious recipe I usually make in the winter.       

I don’t really make New Year resolutions but I do plan to keep up posting on this site, which is proving a very useful ‘aide memoire’ for me as I add in recipes which we have tried and liked.  If you make something I have posted please do respond and let me know what you thought.    

Wishing you a very Happy New Year 2010 and…

…Happy Eating!

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A little extra something for the Christmas or New Year party table!  Following the example of the original recipe I made these little cheesy biscuits bite sized using a variety of shapes from my collection of mini cutters.  They would be just as good made larger and used as canapes with a selection of toppings. Each of my cheese biscuits – I made six shapes – had a different topping: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, black onion seeds (often known as Nigella or Kalonji, though I am not sure if the English garden Nigella or ‘Love in a Mist’ as an edible variety), cumin seeds, smoked (or ordinary) paprika, pinch of finely grated parmesan. Another recipe for cheese biscuits I found suggested using fennel seeds and if you like heat then you could use cayenne pepper. You could also leave some of the biscuits plain.  (Be warned that the high heat of the cooking combined with the high fat content of the biscuits could cause a liquid topping such as tomato or pesto sauce to blacken. Although I have not tried it, I think it would be sensible to add these toppings once the biscuits are cooked, returning them to the oven for 3-5 minutes maximum so the topping can set.)  The mixture could, I am sure, also be made into cheese straws.  I found rolling the soft pastry between pieces of cling film was very successful, as was using a thoroughly chilled lump of dough and re-chilling the baking trays full of biscuits before cooking.  From memory, I think my cutters were original from a children’s cookery set.  One warning these biscuits are very rich and contain a large amount of butter as well as cheese, so are not very good for weight watchers.  Definitely naughty but nice!  My small cutters made around 170 biscuits, so be warned that it is a rather time consuming job, but don’t they all look pretty!

The recipe for Crunchy Cheese Biscuits came from the ASDA instore free magazine, December 2009 issue and was suggested they could be give as an edible Christmas gift: a good idea if you have the time!  It is recommended that they will keep for two weeks in the fridge, stored in an airtight container, or alternatively frozen for up to six weeks.  The recipe is almost identical to the original with very few alterations.

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Crunchy Cheese Biscuits
(Number depends on cutter size.  I made about 170 – original says 50!)

200g plain flour
¼ level tsp dry mustard powder
¼ level tsp cayenne
150g butter, cut into cubes
75g extra mature Cheddar, grated
25g Parmesan, grated
1 medium egg, separated
Toppings to decorate – Choose from pinches of: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, black onion seeds, cumin seeds, smoked (or ordinary) paprika, finely grated parmesan, fennel seeds – or anything else that you feel might be suitable.

1.  Grease two or three baking trays or line them with baking paper (the trays may have to be reused). 

2.  Sift the flour, mustard powder, cayenne and a good pinch of salt into a large bowl.

3.  Rub in the butter.  Stir in the cheeses.  Add the egg yolk and 2tsp cold water.  Stir until the mixture starts to clump together and then mix it by hand shaping it into a slab about 2cm thick.  Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

4.  Roll out a third of the dough between two sheets of clingfilm until it is 3mm thick (using clingfilm means you do not need flour each time to re-roll the dough.  This keeps the biscuits crisp). Remove the top sheet of film and cut the dough into small shapes with a cutter. Place the shapes on a baking tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Try to get roughly an equal number of each shape.

5.  Preheat the oven to 180oC/160oC Fan/Gas 4. Lightly beat the egg white and brush some on each biscuit. Sprinkle some with the toppings.  You may like to leave some plain.  (See notes on toppings in the introduction above.)  If you have time, re-chill the biscuits in the fridge for 20-30minutes before baking.

6.  Bake biscuits for 12-14 minutes, removing them carefully from the baking tray as they are fragile and leave them to cool on a wire rack. 

7.  If giving as a gift they can be packed into a decorative box with tissue paper and decorated with pretty paper and ribbon.  Remember to provide a ‘menu’ (as in a box of chocolates) so the recipient knows which flavour toppings you have used and to give storage instructions if appropriate.

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Almost every year we eat this flan a day or two after Christmas.  It is an excellent way to use up left over Turkey and is even tastier if you can add a little leftover ham or bacon as well.  As it is a dish for using up leftovers the proportions of meat will depend on what you have left in your fridge. The original instructions call for cheese pastry, however if it is for a family meal I usually simplify it by using ordinary shortcrust pastry.  There is still cheese in the sauce and sprinkled on the surface.  If I was making the recipe for guests I would probably use cheese pastry for a richer result.  You can find the recipes for cheese pastry and shortcrust pastry in a previous post.  This recipe could be made in advance and reheated as needed and would be ideal to take to a shared supper where it could be eaten hot or cold.

Margo, a friend in our last church in Ipswich, Suffolk, was a domestic science teacher.  She found the original recipe in the book Delia Smith’s Christmas (1990 edition) and shared it with us one Christmas when she gave a cookery demonstration.

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Turkey Flan with Leeks & Cheese
(Serves 4-6)

One quantity cheese or shortcrust pastry
For the filling:
1tsp butter (for cooking the leeks)
1lb/450g leeks, washed thoroughly and sliced
10-12oz/275-350g cooked turkey, chicken or ham (or a mixture), thinly sliced
3oz/75g cheese, grated
1½oz/40g butter
15fl oz/425ml milk or a mixture of milk and cream
1oz/25g plain flour
a little freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
cayenne pepper
salt and freshly milled black pepper

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 and pop in a heavy baking sheet to pre-heat. Grease and flour a 10inch/25cm quiche tin.

2. Make up a quantity of either cheese or shortcrust pastry

3. Melt the teaspoon of butter in a frying pan and cook the leeks over a low heat for about 6 minutes until they begin to exude some of their juice. If necessary, place the leeks in a sieve to strain off any juices into a bowl and set aside.

4.  Roll out the pastry and line the prepared quiche tin. Place some beans in the flan dish on top of the pastry to prevent it from rising and pre-bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes.

5.  Blend 1½ oz (40 g) butter with the milk and flour in a saucepan, Bring up to the boil, whisking constantly, until the sauce is smooth and thick. Season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Leave the sauce to simmer very gently for 5 minutes.

6.  Remove the pastry case from the oven and arrange the leeks over the base, followed by the slices of turkey, chicken or ham.  

7.  Pour the reserved leek juice into the sauce, add three-quarters of the grated cheese and the beaten egg and mix well. Pour the sauce evenly over the flan sprinkling the remaining cheese on top along with a dusting of cayenne.

8.  Bake the flan at the same temperature as above on the baking sheet for 25-30 minutes or until the flan is well browned.

9.  Serve with a jacket potato and either salad or a simply cooked green vegetable.

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The Feast Day for St Stephen falls on 26 December (also usually called Boxing Day unless it is a Sunday), hence words in the Christmas Carol Good King Wenceslas:

“Good King Wenceslas looked out
on the feast of Stephen, …”

However, I have no idea why this is called St Stephen’s Pudding.  There is no reason given with the original recipe, where it is suggested as an alternative to the usual heavy fruit filled Pudding traditionally served on Christmas Day, but it somehow seems fitting to serve it on 26th December.  We love traditional Christmas pudding, however this I find makes a similarly comforting, but lighter, lemony-apple & raisin flavoured dessert for Boxing Day, when the first course is usually cold meats and vegetables served with chutney and pickle. It is a good way to use up any suet you have left from making your rich fruit Christmas pudding. For a more lemony pudding than the original I add not only the zest of the lemon, but the juice as well, putting in less milk.  I felt that the pudding needed a slightly longer cooking by an extra 30minutes, or so.  The addition of ½-1tsp cinnamon or ginger and some small pieces of crystallised ginger would add a lovely extra dimension.

The original recipe for St Stephen’s Pudding comes from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course and she says it was passed on to her by an East Anglian television viewer. In River Cottage Food Heroes, a programme broadcast a few days before Christmas, there was a recipe for Thimble Mill Pudding, which is somewhat similar.  (For Thimble Mill pudding the pudding basin was liberally smeared with butter and coated with demerara sugar before the pudding mixture was added, something that would also work well with St Stephen’s pudding.)

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St Stephen’s Pudding
(Serves 4-6)

4oz (110g) white breadcrumbs
2oz (50g) self-raising flour, sifted
2oz (50g) light brown soft sugar
3oz (75g) shredded suet
a pinch of salt
4oz (110g) seedless raisins
2 medium Bramley cooking apples, peeled and grated
1 lemon – Grated zest & juice
1 large egg
1 tbsp milk, aprox – (total amount of lemon juice & milk should be 3tbsp)
Optional extras:
½-1tsp cinnamon or ginger
4-6 pieces of crystallised ginger, chopped (as well as or in place of the raisins)

1.  Lightly grease a 3 pint/2 litre pudding basin.  If you wish, you could use butter and add a coating of demerara sugar as for Thimble Mill Pudding.  The demarara sugar could be mixed with ground cinnamon or ginger for this coating rather than mixed into the pudding.

2.  Combine all the breadcrumbs, flour, sugar, suet and salt (plus spices if using) in a large mixing bowl.  Add the raisins, grated apple and grated lemon zest and stir well. (Plus the chopped ginger if using.)  Add the lemon juice and stir well.

3.  Mix the egg and milk together and stir into the mixture.  Stir well to thoroughly combine the ingredients.

4.  Spoon the mixture into the pudding basin, pushing it down well with a spoon.  Cover the basin tightly with its lid.  For a lidless basin cover with a sheet of baking parchment with a pleat in the centre to allow for expansion and then with a sheet of foil.  Secure with string.

5.  Boil a kettle, pour the boiling water into a saucepan to about halfway.  Bring to the boil, fit a steamer on top and then reduce to a medium heat.  The pudding can also be cooked in a panful of simmering water. Steam the pudding for 2½ hours, checking reguarly to keep the water level topped up. If you have an electric stacking steamer then this can be used very successfully, also regularly checking the water level.  (You can also use a slow cooker or pressure cooker – consult the instruction booklet for timings.)

6.  Serve with custard, cream or alternatively with brandy or rum butter.  I have also served this with Dulce de Leche/Confiture du lait/Toffee Sauce and crème fraîche.

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Stollen is a traditional rich Christmas bread eaten in Austria and Germany.  It is full of dried fruits and candied peel with hidden marzipan centre topped with a drizzle of glace icing.  The way the yeast dough is rolled around the marzipan log is intended to remind us of the cloths that swaddled baby Jesus in the manger.  The usual shape is to simply fold the sides of the dough in over the marzipan centre so there is a central ridge.  I decided to make my Stollen dough into a plait so it looked more like swaddling bands.  I make Stollen on Christmas eve to eat at Christmas morning breakfast.  If there is any left later in the week it is lovely toasted.

The recipe I use comes from the book Delia Smith’s Christmas (1990 edition).  It is worth making a double quantity, especially if you have guests for Christmas. Delia says it freezes very well, though I have never done so.  Despite Delia’s original instructions saying that you should not use easy blend yeast, I have used it very successfully and have amended the instructions accordingly.  The remaining ingredients are as listed in the original recipe, but are simply added in a slightly different order. Delia suggests a light glaze of glace icing, but I simply dust my Stollen with icing sugar, which is more traditional making it much less sweet.  I also decided to make my own marzipan, which was very quick and simple: better than buying it ready made.

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5fl oz/150ml milk
2oz/50g caster sugar
1 sachet easy blend yeast
12oz/350g strong white bread flour
¼level teaspoon salt
4oz/110g softened butter
1 large egg, beaten
1½ oz/40g currants
2oz/50g sultanas
1½ oz/40g no-soak apricots, chopped
1oz/25g glacé cherries, rinsed, dried and quartered
1oz/25g mixed candied peel, finely diced
1oz/25g almonds, chopped
grated zest ½ lemon
6oz/175g marzipan – home made is so easy!

For the glaze:
4oz (110g) icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1tsp (aprox) icing sugar

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 190oC/375oF/Gas 5

2.  Warm the milk, first of all, till you can just still dip your little finger in it.  Warm the butter until just starting to melt.

3.  Sieve the flour into a large bowl reserving a little to flour the surface when you knead later – about 1oz/25g.   Add the salt, sugar and yeast and combine. 

4.  Pour in the warmed milk, part melted butter and egg.  Mix together well with your hands. 

5.  Begin to pull the mixture together into a ball.  When it is well blended and leaves the side of the bowl cleanly, turn it out onto a floured work surface.  Knead until it starts to lose its stickyness and becomes a smooth ball.

6.  Flatten the ball onto the work surface and pile the fruits, peel, nuts and lemon zest onto the middle.  Fold the edges of the dough over the fruits and continue to knead, distributing the added ingredients as evenly as possible.  If any pieces fall out then just push them back into the mixture.  Continue to knead the dough until it is springy and elastic – about 5 minutes more.

7.  Return the dough to the bowl and leave the dough in a warm place, covered with a clean tea towel or a layer of plastic, until it has doubled in size.  I use the airing cupboard. (The time the dough takes to rise varies depending on the temperature and it could take up to 2 hours.)

8.  Turn the risen dough onto a board floured with the reserved 1 oz (25 g) of flour.  Knead the dough, knocking the air out of it and continue kneading until it is smooth and elastic.  Roll or press out the dough to an oblong 10 x 8 inches (25 x 20 cm).

9.  Using your hands, roll the marzipan into a sausage shape that almost fits the length of the oblong.  Place this along the centre of the dough, finishing just short of the edges.

10.  Either: Fold the dough over the marzipan (for the traditional shape),
or: make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes along the long edges of the dough.  Alternately fold each one over the marzipan to give a plaited appearance, making sure the marzipan is fully enclosed. (This gives the appearance of swaddling bands.)

11.  Carefully place the Stollen on a baking sheet, big enough to allow for expansion. Leave it to prove in a warm place until doubled in size once more.

12.  Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Leave it to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes and then lift it on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

13.  For a glazed Stollen: Mix the sifted icing sugar with the lemon juice.  Using a small palette knife spread it over the top of the stollen (while still warm).
For a icing dusted Stollen:  Gently sprinkle icing sugar over the Stollen while still warm.  I find the easiest way of getting a fine powder rather than lumps of sugar  is to rub it through a plastic mesh tea strainer or similarly fine sieve.

14.  Serve as fresh as possible, cut into thick slices, with or without butter.  It also toasts well when it is no longer fresh.

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Marzipan is an ancient sweetmeat.  One of its major uses is as a layer under icing on a rich fruit Christmas cake and also at Easter as the top layer of a Simnel Cake.  It is also used in Stollen, a rich and fruity yeast bread eaten at Christmas, mainly in Germanic and Scandinavian countries.  It can also be shaped and beautifully painted as miniature fruits and as the filling for chocolates, either plain or flavoured.   I like to add small marzipan stars on top of Mince Pies over the Christmas period.  I know it is easy to buy Marzipan in packets from the supermarket, but it is so easy to make – plus, of course, you know exactly what ingredients you have used so there are no strangely named additives.  If you want a yellow marzipan then carefully add a few drops of yellow food colouring until the required shade is achieved, but be careful not to over knead the mixture or it will become oily.  

I have several Marzipan recipes, but used the one from Leith’s Cookery Bible: Completely Revised & Updated Edition by Prue Leith & Caroline Waldegrave.  The original used vanilla essence but I substituted almond essence as suggested in several other recipes, which seemed more sensible.  I do not make the full quantity: half for covering a Christmas/Simnel cake or a quarter (with half an egg) to fill a Stollen, leaving just a little over to cut out for the star topped mince pies.  Providing it is well wrapped, the marzipan keeps well in the fridge for at least two weeks.

The recipe includes raw egg and may not be suitable for certain vulnerable groups of people.  I expect there are egg free versions available.  Delia Smith has a version using cooked eggs on her website, but I have not tried it.

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Marzipan (Almond Paste)

225g/8ozs caster sugar
225g/8ozs icing sugar
450g/1lb ground almonds
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
2tsp lemon juice
6 drops vanilla or almond essence

1.  Sift the sugars together in a bowl and stir in the ground almonds

2.  In a separate bowl mix together the eggs, lemon juice and essence.

3.  Add to the sugar & almond mixture and mix together with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to overmix as it will become over oily. If it is a bit sticky then add some more almonds and/or icing sugar

4.  Wrap well and store in a cool paste.  As it contains egg it should be used within a few days.

5.  When rolling out this should be done on a dusting of icing sugar to stop the marzipan adhering to the surface or rolling pin.

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I love Lebkuchen, the spiced Christmas-time biscuits from Germany which are slightly soft rather than crisp.  They are often called German Gingerbread with the most famous type originating from Nuremburg. The German Food Guide gives more information on the different types of Lebkuchen.  This recipe is for the most well known type: Brown Lebkuchen, but there is a lesser known White Lebkuchen made with almonds and candied fruits. Brown Lebkuchen can be either iced or chocolate covered.  It was not easy tracking down a brown Lebkuchen recipe.  There was nothing on my extensive cookbook shelves or in the library, and although there are lots of references to Lebkuchen online the recipes I found were written for US cups rather than UK or European measures.  (I know there are conversion tables but I find them rather confusing and baking is a precise art!)  My only comment on the finished biscuits, which were lovely, was that we would have liked some other spices.  Other online recipes included cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom.  I will definitely make Lebkuchen another year and I will try adding a bit of one or two other spices to see whether they improve an already good recipe.  If they do I will update this post. (By the way, you really cannot detect the chilli heat, so don’t worry about including it as an ingredient.)

I had almost given up my hunt until a chance conversation with a cookery loving friend – thank you Jo – who lent me a delightful little book, a charity shop purchase.  In the book: Making Gingerbread Houses and other Gingerbread Treats by Joanna Farrow, was the Lebkuchen recipe I had been seeking, plus instructions for decorating the finished biscuits.  Truly this is a book for those who like to mess around in the kitchen, also giving recipes for golden and chocolate gingerbread and how to form them into the most amazing Gingerbread creations, including ideas for using crushed boiled sweets as stained glass windows.  (As the gingerbread bakes the sweets melt and form a brittle coloured shell.)  Wish I had visited the charity shop first!

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(Makes 40-50 biscuits, depending on the size of your cutters)

115g/4ozs unsalted butter, softened
115g/4ozs light muscovado sugar
1 egg, beaten
115g/4ozs black treacle
400g/14ozs self-raising flour
5ml/1tsp ground ginger
2.5ml/½tsp ground cloves
1.4ml/¼tsp chilli powder

1.  Cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale in colour and fluffy.

2.  Beat in the egg and treacle.

3.  Sift the flour, ground ginger, ground cloves and chilli powder into the bowl.  Using a wooden spoon gradually mix the ingredients together to make a stiff paste. 

4.  Turn this paste onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead until it is smooth.

5.  Wrap and chill this dough for at least 30minutes.  (I left mine in the fridge overnight.)

6.  Grease two or three baking sheets. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4

7.  Divide the dough into equal portions, one for each cutter you are using.  I used three different shapes of about 4.5cm/1¼inch: heart, square and round, each of which was differently decorated.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a  thickness of ¼in/8mm.  Cut out the shapes and place on the baking sheet with a space between each to allow for a very small amount of expansion.  The dough can be re-rolled and cut, using a little additional flour to stop it sticking, until it is all used up.

8.  Chill trays of uncooked Lebkuchen for 30 minutes.

9.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Once cool the biscuits can be stored in a well sealed container until you are ready to decorate and/or eat them.

10.  Decorate each shape in a different way.  When they are finished, leave in a cool place to set, but do not refrigerate as this will spoil the shiny appearance of the chocolate.  Suggestions include:

a)  Make an Icing Glaze: mix together 1tbsp lightly beaten egg white and 1tbsp lemon juice with enough sifted icing sugar until you have a mixture which is like thin cream and thinly coats the back of a spoon.  Use this to cover the biscuits, tapping the wire tray as in a) to evenly distribute the glaze.  This lemony glaze is a lovely complement for the ginger flavour as well as being very traditional.

b)  Melt dark chocolate in a dish over a pan of boiling water (or very carefully in the microwave) and coat the biscuits.  Do this on a metal rack over a tray.  Tapping the tray slightly will help the chocolate run evenly over the biscuit.  Add a decoration of chocolate sprinkles while still wet.

c)  As a) but melt a little white chocolate in the same way in a separate bowl. Once the first dark coat is dry, pipe a decoration of white chocolate stripes or carefully drizzle with chocolate. (This could be reversed with dark stripes on a white coating for those who like white chocolate.)

d)  As a) using dark chocolate and a dusting of sifted icing sugar while still slightly wet.

e) As a) using white chocolate and a dusting of cocoa powder while still slightly wet.

f) A thin layer of marzipan under a coating of chocolate.  Other decoration if you wish.


White Lebkuchen

As mentioned above, there is another type of Lebkuchen made with ground almonds and decorated with candied peel.  I plan to try this recipe for White Lebkuchen from the Good Food Channel website another year.

Thick Chocolate Fruit & Nut Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen can also be cut twice as thick (making half as many finished biscuits, of course) giving a softer more chewy biscuit/cake.  These thick Lebkuchen are covered with a coating of dark chocolate as in a) above and then decorated with glace cherries, almonds and walnuts. 

These are both something to try another time and I will make a separate post if they are successful.

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Ham is a traditional meat for the Christmas table, alongside the usual turkey.  We particularly enjoy them together at tea time as cold cuts with salad, pickles and chutneys. Cooking the ham completely or partially in ginger ale, rather than conventionally in water, gives a lovely sweet flavour which penetrates the whole joint of meat. Adding a glaze followed by a quick second cooking adds a further gingery spicy/sweet outer crust. I have served gammon in this way at a special Sunday lunch for family, accompanied by vegetables or ratatouille. It is very easy to make as the joint can be cooked the night before for a Sunday lunch and covered in the marinade for an hour or so before the short final cooking. I substituted canned ginger beer for the ginger ale of the original recipe (I used Old Jamaica brand, but any can be substituted.) The original recipe was for a large (12lb) joint of meat which was cooked in 7 litres (12 pints) of ginger ale, which at 1 pint per lb seemed rather a lot. For a very small ham joint of about 2lbs I used just one can, which still gave a good flavour but probably two, or at most three, cans would be ample for a larger joint. I am sure it does not matter if the ham is cooked in a mixture of ginger ale and a little water. It is important that the joint is pre-soaked to remove some of the salt used in the curing process.  The original recipe uses Ginger Marmalade: the combination of Orange Marmalade and ground ginger that I use was suggested as an alternative.

This recipe originally came from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas 2008 television programme, from her book Nigella Express. I scribbled the details, which were simple, on some scrap paper but was glad to find Nigella’s recipe for Ginger Glazed Ham online as well. The quantities given below are my adaptations of the original which have worked well for me. 

For a plain boiled ham, without using ginger beer, use all water plus 6-8 black peppercorns and a small bay leaf.

100_7739 Honey Glazed Ham

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Gingered Glazed Ham
(Serves 4-6)

1.5-2kg/3-4lb joint unsmoked boneless ham (as little rind as possible)
2 x 330ml cans of ginger beer (original recipe uses dry ginger ale)
A little water if needed (optional)

For glaze:
125g/4ozs orange marmalade
½tsp ground ginger
1 tablespoon hot English mustard (or ½tbsp mustard powder)
50g/2ozs soft dark brown sugar
¼tsp ground cloves

Slow Cooker method:
1. Place unwrapped gammon piece in a heatproof blow and pour over boiling water.  Pre-heat the slow cooker on high for 30minutes. 

2.  Remove gammon from bowl and throw away water.  Place gammon in slow cooker, cover with ginger beer (one can may be enough) and top up with boiling water.  Turn cooker to low and leave to cook: up to 2lb (up to 1kg) ham for 4-hrs, 3-4lb (1.5-2kg) for 5-6hrs.

To finish ham, continue from stage 3 below…

Stove top method:
1. Place the joint a good sized pan and cover with boiling water. Depending on size, leave it to soak for at least 20 minutes but longer if you wish a to remove more salt. If you are short of time, make sure you remove the most salty juices by pouring over the boiling water and leave for at least five minutes. Strain away the salty water.

2. Return the joint to the pan and pour over the ginger beer, topping it up with water so the liquid comes about half way up the pan and a good portion of the ham is covered. Bring the pan to the boil and then lower the heat slightly simmer for 1½hours.

3. Mix together the glaze ingredients a bowl.

4. Towards the end of the cooking time pre-heat the oven to 220oC/425o, unless you are going to finish the joint from cold (see 6 below).

Same day finish:
5. Gently lift the ham out of the pan and place on a foil-lined baking tray. Carefully remove any skin, leaving a thin layer of fat. There is no need to score the surface, just cover liberally with the glaze and place the tray with the ham into the hot oven for 20 minutes.

Next day finish:
6.  Leave the joint to cool and finish the procedure the next day. Cover with the glaze at least 1hour before cooking as the flavours will take longer to penetrate the cold meat. Pre-heat the oven to 220oC/425oF and place the tray with the ham into the hot oven for 20 minutes.

7. The sugars  in the glaze will blacken a little while cooking but be careful not to overcook the joint at this stage. 

8.  Serve hot or cold.  Any meat juices from the oven cooking plus a little of the liquid from the stovetop cooking can be thickened with a little cornflour to make a gingery sauce, although taste it well as adding too much cooking liquid could make it salty.

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If you are having a Turkey this Christmas the chance is that there will be some Cranberry Sauce on the table.  It’s difficult to get excited about the shop bought variety, however, even if it is one of the better quality brands.  I usually find it is not worth the bother – a bit like having jam with my main course – so I pass it on to the next person.  This year I have found several variations for a relish made using fresh Cranberries and chose to make this one which adds orange as well as ginger, which we love. It was lovely.  Sharp, fruity and spicy but not particularly sweet.  (I had seconds!)  Another version substituted Clementines, always available at this time of year and combined them with Star Anise … perhaps another year.  The family eat Cranberry Sauce throughout the year with roast chicken and also in sandwiches with an unexciting slice of cold chicken.  I once made a large ‘hand raised pie’ using hot water crust pastry with layers of chicken, ham, sausagement and cranberry sauce.  It was a quite lot of work but great fun to do and a satisfying result in more way than one, I remember!  I ought to make one again some time.  Whilst this recipe for Cranberry & Orange relish is wonderful for Christmas and special occasions, I shall make one of the ‘shortcut’ recipes for improving a jar of pre-purchased cranberry sauce for everyday use.  Recipes for these are given after the recipe.

This recipe was part of Delia Smith’s Christmas cooking article in the December 2009 edition of the ASDA instore magazine.  She recommends that any left over relish is great served with pâté and potted meats.  It keeps well in the fridge for up to two weeks from the date it was made, although it would keep a little longer if potted into sterilised jars. An attractive jar filled with relish with a pretty lid cover or wrapper and would make a good seasonal gift.

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Cranberry & Orange Relish
(Enough to serve 8 – fills 4 small shop sized cranberry sauce jars)

450g fresh cranberries – I successfully used previously frozen and thawed cranberries
Zest and juice of 1 large orange – wash before zesting
½ teaspoon ground ginger
75g sugar
4cm piece of cinnamon stick
4 cloves
2-3 tablespoons port

1.  Chop the cranberries well, using a food processor or small chopper and place them in a saucepan.

2.  Remove the zest of the orange with a zester or potato peeler so you have very fine shreds. Squeeze the orange and add to the pan, along with the strips of zest, ginger, sugar and spices.

3.  Heat the mixture to simmering point, stir well, cover the pan and simmer very gently for about 5 minutes.  (Delia Smith recommends using a kitchen timer as it is so easy to forget about it.)

3.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the port.  When it has cooled, pour into a serving dish and cover with clingfilm.  Keep it in a cool place or the fridge until needed.  The cloves and cinnamon should be removed before serving!  Alternatively, while still hot, the relish can be poured into sterilised jars with sterilised lids.  Once cooled the relish can be kept for a little longer as the jars should be airtight, although it is recommended that they are stored in the fridge.

Shortcut ways to ‘improve’ a jar of standard shop purchased cranberry sauce:
Zingy Cranberry Sauce (from the ASDA instore magazine, December 2007)
Place 80ml port and the juice and finely grated zest of an orange in a pan and gently boil until thick and syrupy.  (You could add some spices too as in the above recipe if you wish:  cinnamon stick or star anise, ground ginger, cloves.)  Stir in a 150-200g jar (depending on brand) of shop purchased Cranberry sauce (not Cranberry Jelly).  While still hot, pot and seal.
Cranberry and Apple Relish (Found on the ASDA website)
Put a peeled, cored and finely chopped Cox or Granny Smith Apple, 5tbsp orange juice and 50g raisins in a small pan along with the contents of a 150g jar of Cranberry Sauce (not Cranberry Jelly).  Stir over a low heat until well mixed, then simmer for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture thickens.  Turn into a bowl and leave to cool. Alternatively while still hot, pot and seal.

I do not know what the shelf life of these shortcut versions would be and suggest they are eaten fairly quickly and stored in the fridge. 

Both of these recipes sound easy enough but are untested, but sound as if they would be worth a try.  If anyone does make them I would appreciate any feedback as to their success. Thank you.

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This recipe was given to our family by Mrs Jolly, the Swedish mother of my brother’s school friend Neal.  It’s one of those recipes that works every time.  A lovely crispy spiced biscuit: very more-ish.  At a glance, the amount of spice used seems rather a lot: the original recipe calls for scant teaspoonfuls.  Once you have tried the recipe you can use a full teaspoon of each if you would like a stronger flavour.  We lost touch with Neal a long time ago, but know he is now a GP somewhere in Yorkshire.  I hope that he would be glad to know that his mother’s recipe is still being enjoyed by his old friends! 

Updated 8 May 2010: I have made these biscuits many times but another similar recipe (Bittersweet Baker – Perfect Gingersnaps) suggests that the balls of biscuit dough are rolled in sugar crystals before baking to give a crunchy sugary coating.  Raw sugar was suggested. I think extra Demerara would also be good and I shall try this next time I make a batch.

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‘Jolly’ Ginger Biscuits
(Makes about 30 biscuits)

125g/4ozs butter
250g/8ozs Demerara sugar
1 egg
1tsp golden syrup
250g/8ozs self raising flour
1tsp (scant) ground ginger
1tsp (scant) ground cinnamon
1tsp (scant) ground cloves
1tsp (scant) ground mixed spice
1tsp (scant) bicarbonate of soda
a little extra Demerara sugar for sprinkling

1.  Pre-heat oven to 375oF/190oC/180oC Fan oven/Gas 5.

2.  Cream butter and sugar together well until soft and fluffy.  

3.  Stir in the beaten egg and mix well.

4.  Mix in the golden syrup.

5.  Sift in the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda and mix together well.

6.  Form pieces of the mixture into small balls (about 10-15g/½oz each) and place spaced well apart on greased and floured baking sheets or tins.  (I find I needs 3 or 4 sheets.)

7.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10minutes.  You may need to change the position of the tins in the oven or rotate them to make sure the biscuits brown evenly.

8.  Cool on a wire tray before storing in a tin or airtight box.

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