Thursday, 16 December 2010

Festive fodder...

Erm, well I've you've paid any attention to this blog then you know that I love cooking. Just below this on my list of passions is eating so I am gearing up for the festive food frenzy to come.

While Christmas day is spent with my immediate family, the festive season sees the appearance of my in-law-equivalents (had we bothered to get married), our extended family and our very dear friends and I love cooking for each and every one of them. Had I not traced my ancestry already (very Scottish, not a hint of continental flavour in there at all) I would convinced that I was an Italian Mama in a previous life as my heart is warmest when people are gathered around our table with bellies as full as eggs.

Of the dinners I am planning to cook over the season, a few stick out for differing reasons. My family is large and that can make dinners tricky. We have to cater for a fussy sister, an elderly Grandmother and several kids so our dinner is a pretty traditional affair. Every year I order a capon for dinner and to be honest we're all so knackered with wrapping and opening presents that it very much is a case of filling your belly and watching the telly. Last years gravy had the addition of wine, garlic and bay and I was busted straight away. So the subsequent dinners are where I really get to have fun...

This year I am particularly looking forward to a special Christmas Eve get together with my best bud. Seeing as she's from Down South, we haven't spent much of the festive season together for the past few years. In a rather surprising turn of events she is staying in Edinburgh this year and will be joined with her parents for the holiday and so straight away I offered them dinner to mark this occasion. Now this dinner poses a challenge as my buddy is a Vegetarian (should that be capitalised?). I love her despite this obstacle! Now I could cook a traditional dinner and accommodate her but I want to make the dinner about her so I've made the menu completely vegetarian. It is much easier to construct a meal that accommodates meat eaters than the reverse. So a snapshot of the meal is the main course centrepiece which is Wild Mushroom and Port Stuffed Brioche.


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 225g chestnut mushrooms , quartered
  • 115g shiitake mushrooms , halved
  • 2 large field mushrooms , sliced
  • 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 300ml red wine
  • 1.2l hot vegetable stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 150ml port
  • 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • 6 brioche rolls ( I got them from Waitrose)
  • flatleaf parsley , to garnish 

  1. Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan, then fry mushrooms for 4-5 mins, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon, then set aside. Add remaining oil to the pan, then fry the celery, onion and garlic over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 mins. Add wine, stock and thyme and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 mins.
  2. Add the port and redcurrant jelly. Bring back to the boil, then boil for 10 mins until reduced by half and thick and syrupy. Season to taste, discard the thyme and stir in the mushrooms. Simmer for 5 mins.
  3. Meanwhile, pull the tops off the brioche and reserve, then pick out dough from the centre to leave a thick shell. (Process remaining dough to make breadcrumbs, then freeze for future use.) Place rolls on a baking sheet, then bake for 5-7 mins until hot and crisp.
  4. Spoon the mushroom mixture into the brioche rolls, then garnish with the flat-leaf parsley. Serve immediately with any remaining gravy, potato wedges and green beans.   
While me and my bud differ on our views regarding the eating of animals, there is one major food group that we agree on and both love, cheese! While technically cheese is not a food group, we consume so much of it that it should be. So I'll be preparing some cheesey canapés to have with our fizz for the evening. Mini cheese fondues with grissini and dried figs stuffed with dolcelatte are the main stars of the show.

Another occasion we're looking forward to is catching up with a very dear best friend and his partner. As the lot of us are voracious meat eaters I am particularly looking forward to making my Ham Hock Terrine with Homemade Piccallili. Now a terrine really isn't a big deal to make but it does require time and a bit of patience. Now you can, as I have here, buy and boil hocks especially for this recipe but similarly if you go a bit mental with your festive gammon or ham, you can use the left overs to produce this. Serve it with the finest bread you can find.

  • 1 large ham hock, or 2 smaller ones, about 2kg in total, soaked overnight if needed
  • 2 carrots , peeled and halved
  • 3 celery sticks, peeled and halved
  • 2 small onions, peeled and halved
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 8 coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 leaves gelatine
  • small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp small capers, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp chopped gherkins
  • piccalilli and crusty bread, to serve                                                  


  1. Put the ham hocks in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer, then cook for 10 minutes, skimming off the impurities. Add the veg and spices, then simmer gently for 3 hours, skimming as necessary. Don't let the liquid boil as it will make the stock murky.
  2. Take the hocks out of the pan, then strain the liquid into a bowl (line the sieve with a clean j-cloth or muslin to get a clearer liquid).
  3. Put 800ml of the strained stock in a clean pan and boil until reduced by half. Season well, then add the white wine vinegar. Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water until soft, then add to the ham hock liquid and stir to dissolve. Cool so the gelatine starts to set a little.
  4. Strip the meat from the ham hocks and put in a bowl. Mix in the capers, gherkins and parsley. When the liquid looks like it's starting to thicken, pour over the meat and stir.
  5. Line an approx 900g terrine or loaf tin with a double layer of clingfilm, leaving some overhanging - tip in the meat mixture. Pack down and cover loosely with excess clingfilm. Cut a strip of card the same size as the top of the tin, cover with foil, then press on top and weigh down with some tins. Chill overnight. Serve sliced with piccalilli and crusty bread.
You can buy pretty decent jars of piccalilli these days. However, if you fancy having a go at making your own, here's a recipe:
  • 2 small cauliflower , cut into small florets
  • 400g silverskin or pearl onions
  • 600g courgettes , cut into small chunks (about 2cm pieces)
  • 6 firm pears , cored, and cut as the courgettes
  • 100g salt
  • 1.7l cider vinegar
  • finger-length piece fresh root ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 3 tbsp brown or black mustard seeds
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 8 tbsp cornflour
  • 5 tbsp English mustard powder
  • 3 tsp turmeric
  1. In a bowl, mix together the vegetables, pears and salt with 2 litres of cold water, then cover and leave overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the brine from the vegetables, rinse briefly, then tip into a large saucepan with the vinegar, ginger, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for 8-10 mins until the veg is just tender but still with a little bite. Drain the vegetables, reserving the liquid, and set aside while you make the sweet mustard sauce.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the cornflour, mustard powder and turmeric, then gradually pour in the hot vinegar while whisking, until you have a lump-free, thin yellow sauce. Return it to the saucepan and bubble over a low heat, stirring constantly, for 4 mins until smooth and thickened. Stir in the veg and spoon into five sterilised 500ml jars while hot, then seal. Once cool, enjoy straight away, or store in a cool, dark cupboard for 2-3 months. Refrigerate once opened.   

This recipe should make about 5 500ml jars, I probably eat half a jar while making it and again as with all of these recipes, play around. Pears in this recipe are a very nice wintery addition but use apples if that's what you have. If you can't get silverskin onions, used shallots but adjust the amount to half. Cooking is meant to be fun and enjoyable!

What will you be eating this year?


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