Sunday, 29 December 2013

Week 45- Beyond Boxing Day

So, Christmas has been and gone. The over-shopping that preceded the Big Day- and the overeating that characterized it- have given away to the over-full fridge, bursting with leftovers.

Boxing Day uses up loads of these- we always have cold cuts, baked jacket potatoes and salads the day after Christmas- but what to do with all the rest?

It's not just a question of avoiding waste- it's also about having a variety of dishes and menus to tempt the tastebuds after so many rich flavours.

Did your Christmas dinner leftovers look something like this?

If so, I have some menu ideas to use things up economically - and also tastily too.

I'm guessing you've got plenty of turkey, cold roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, gravy, mincemeat, cream, cheeses from the cheeseboard and enough chocolates to bury a brontosaurus.

So- how about clear turkey broth with turkey and bacon ravioli followed by Bubble and Squeak cakes with a poached egg and crispy bacon and mince pies 4 different ways ( served with creme fraiche.)

There's also cranberry and wensleydale scones and chocolate wonton parcels for snacks ( it is still the festive season after all).

Chow Phan
The first thing to do - if you haven't done it already- is to strip every last bit of meat from your turkey carcass. I save the best bits of breast and drumsticks for Boxing Day cold cuts, and put the rest of the turkey meat back in the fridge for making Chow Phan (recipe in the cloud at the top of the page) and Turkey and Ham Pie (recipe coming soon. This uses up bread sauce too.) You can freeze this cooked meat in a sealed container if you prefer, as long as it was well -cooked, cooled and refrigerated soon after cooling.

Take the carcass, break it up into bits and put it, any drumstick bones, skin etc into a slow cooker or large saucepan. Add two bay leaves, a handful of parsley or a teaspoon of dried herbs, a chopped onion, a sprig of rosemary and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Pour over 2 litres of cold water and either leave to simmer in the saucepan for a couple of hours or in the slow cooker for 8 hours or so.

Making stock

When this is complete, strain the liquid from the bones and keep it warm. Let the carcass cool for a few minutes, then carefully pick through what is in the sieve, taking off every last little bit of soft meat. I ended up with a good 150g or so in a pot.

(This soft meat is perfect for making into filling for ravioli- just blitz with some cooked bacon, garlic and soft cheese et voila!). However, if you are going to all the trouble of making this deep, rich turkey broth from scratch, you can treat yourself to some shop bought ravioli to float in it, as the Italian fresh ones are really very good. (Still make the filling and freeze it for another time however.)

Turkey broth with ravioli
Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning- you can make it richer by adding some leftover turkey gravy to the mix.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the ravioli with a handful of frozen peas and a sliced spring onion if you have it.
Bubble and Squeak cakes

Ladle the broth into bowls, spoon in some drained ravioli and peas/onions- scrumptious and the perfect antidote to lots of roast meat and sauces.

Bubble and Squeak has featured often on the blog- as it is such a delicious and cheap way of using up vegetables. No apologies for featuring it again- this time made from mashed potato, parsnips, sprouts and a bit of spinach (leek or cabbage or kale would be good too). Mix everything together in a bowl and season well. Take a potato masher and squish everything together some more. Wet your hands and shape the mixture into patties. Fry in vegetable oil until golden and crispy on each side. (Keep warm).

Meanwhile, grill some bacon, pancetta or prosciuttio until really crispy. Drain on kitchen paper.

Poach an egg in boiling salted water for 2  minutes or so and lay on top of the Bubble and Squeak cake, topped with some bacon. Mmmm...
Bubble and Squeak with poached egg and bacon

I've had posh versions of this in restaurants too.

Posh Bubble and Squeak
For pudding, take some of that jar of mincemeat that you have in the larder or fridge, and some spring roll wrappers or vol aux vent cases from the freezer. (Avid blog followers are likely to have these lurking somewhere - or at the very least some filo pastry.)
Experiment with wrapping up the mincemeat different ways- spring roll style, samosas, cigars, parcels or mille-feuilles. For instructions, see the cloud at the top of the page or copy the illustrations here.
Mincemeat vol aux vents

Roll up your mincemeat cigars

Mince pie variations

Serve with creme fraiche or ice cream.

Mincemeat cigars
Mincemeat mille feuilles

Now for some treats- firstly chocolate wontons.

I was given lots of chocolates this year for Christmas- colleagues, family, friends. Thank you all. They will be eaten judiciously over the lean months between now and the summer. (Actually, probably not particulary lean if I'm scoffing chocs.)

But what to do with the cheap and cheerful 'After Dinner Mints' I bought to grace the Christmas table myself ?

Here is an idea from Donna Hay.

Take a wonton wrapper or square of filo pastry, brush the edges with water. Slice a  mint chocolate square in half, or place a whole round mint on the wonton. Fold over to encase the chocolate, brush with melted butter or Flora and bake in a medium oven (180 degrees), until the wonton starts to slightly brown. The chocolate will be melted inside and yummy. Like a sweet spring roll.

Chocolate wontons

Finally, what to do with all the leftover bits from the cheese board.

Firstly put all your bits of hard cheese into the goblet of your food processor and blitz. (I had cheddar and wensleydale with cranberries- but any 'speciality' cheddars, red leicesters,  parmesan bits etc will do fine.)

You need about 100g- but if you have more, freeze it once grated.

Take 200g of self raising flour, 50 g of rolled oats, 2 tsp baking powder, 75g of marge, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and blitz in the same goblet of the food processor (no need to wash it). Mix the cheese back in with 2-3 tablespoons of yoghurt and a good dessertspoon of mustard. As the dough comes together, add some milk if you need to. You need a soft dough that can be easily rolled- so not too sticky or wet. (These make quite a dense scone- leave out the oats if you prefer something daintier)

Turn out on a floured board, shape into a round about 3 cm thick and cut out scone shapes. Place on a greased baking tray, brush with milk and sprinkle with fleur de sel or sea salt and bake at 190 degrees until just golden on top.

Brush scones with milk

Serve spread with cream cheese (leftover Boursin, Dolce Latte,  Le roule, etc) or cranberry sauce.
Wensleydale scones

Another Christmas done and dusted- time for a well earned cup of tea!

If I can get past all these Santas!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Week 44- Office Party Leftovers and Hangovers

It's office party season.

Usually, when you think about 'the next day' - all that remains is a thumping head, a churning stomach and a vague sense that you said or did some rather regrettable things.

On my team, we celebrate twice- an evening at the pub which, yes, has the potential to lead to all of the above (and I do believe in always fulfilling my potential)- and a lunchtime buffet where everyone brings a dish and we all have a jolly nice lunch.

The only problem with the latter is that everyone contributes really generously and there is always lots of food left over. It seems criminal to go round with a black dustbin bag and throw away delicious food because people have been kind enough to make it or buy it, but have been too restrained to eat it all up.

So, this year, I collected up what was left and made various dishes out of it all. What I couldn't adapt, I froze. What I couldn't freeze, I gave away.

For this week's blog menu, I took pity on the carrots which had been sliced up to go with hummus and dips, the nuts and dried fruits which some health conscious member of the team had laid out - only to be snubbed in favour of Stollen, mince pies and cheesecake-  also the cocktail sausages which went largely ignored ( as always, on a team of mostly vegetarians and people from faiths which don't eat pork) and a huge Panettone which sat disconsolate and forgotten like the plateau of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's lost world.

I made a nut terrine (like a nut roast but somehow less virtuous), followed by a spiced sausage and bean stew and a caramel bread and butter pudding.

For the terrine- put whatever you have in the way of dried fruit, vegetables and nuts into the goblet of your food processor. I had  carrot sticks, apricots, dates, brazil nuts and walnuts. Pulse to a fine chop.
Meanwhile, toast some pine nuts in a pan until just coloured. Be quick. Don't let them burn.
Similarly soften some onion and some garlic in some olive oil.

Mix everything together in a bowl with some soft breadcrumbs, some grated cheese, some grated nutmeg, salt and pepper and allspice and 2 beaten eggs.
Pour into a well greased loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. (About 20 minutes).
Nut terrine

Serve hot with salad leaves and chutney or style auvergnat napped with hot mushroom sauce.
Terrine with hot mushroom sauce
Sausage and bean stew

Main course again requires some onion softened with garlic in a frying pan. Add the cocktail sausages and heat through. Next add a carton of chopped tomatoes with added chili (or add the chili yourself), a dash of Worcester sauce, a dessertspoon of black treacle (or muscavado sugar), a dessertspoon of balsamic vinegar and a tin of butter beans (drained). Refill the tin and add the starchy water to the pan. Bring to a bubbling boil then reduce to simmer.

When the liquid is thickening, pour into a gratin dish, top with fresh breadcrumbs and place in a hot oven (200 degrees) until the breadcrumbs begin to turn golden - abut 10 minutes.

It made a great huevos rancheros for supper the next day too.
Huevos rancheros

For dessert, I sliced the Panettone and laid one layer in a gratin dish.I spread caramel sauce ( or dulce de leche) over this layer. Next layer went on until the dish was full. I mixed two beaten eggs with 200 ml of milk and a dessertspoon of vanilla essence. Pour the custard over the bread and press it down until the bread is pretty much submerged. I didn't sweeten the egg custard as the caramel sauce is very sweet, as is the Panettone and -oh dear- I sprinkled vanilla sugar over the top before it went into the oven as well.

Spread with caramel sauce

Caramel Panettone bread and butter pudding

Bake at 180 degrees until golden and between mostly firm at the sides and wobbly in the centre. (Think dancing at the office party unrestricted by Spanx).

When serving you can give the top some added crunch by finishing with a blowtorch.

Even though I say it myself, this was a fab meal made from stuff that was destined for the bin.

Enjoy your Christmas break! I know I will.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Week 43- The Big Christmas Freeze

For once, I'm not talking about the weather! We've got family coming from all over for Christmas (some driving up from the South of France even) so the last thing I want to hear about is snow and ice.

No, I'm talking about filling up your freezer to make life easier during Christmas week- and spreading the cost too. Forget diamonds, at Christmas the freezer is a girl's best friend.

Already, many of the recipes featured on recent blogs have been safely tucked away in the freezer- chicken liver parfaits from last week, celeriac gratin from the week before, melba toasts, mince pies, breadcrumbs for stuffing and bread sauce, crispy wontons for mille feuilles..
Crispy wontons
I've also baked rye bread (to go with the salmon starter on Christmas Day), sliced it and frozen it ready to take out as I need it
Rye bread
and made smoked salmon pate (smoked salmon trimmings blitzed with cream cheese, lemon juice and pepper) for piping into canapes.

This week however I made some extra starters, mains and puddings to have on hand when I need them, as guests arrive: tartelettes a l'indienne, cakes aux olives for starters, a massive ragout with minced beef for making chili, lasagne, spag bol or whatever people feel like, and some chocolate and coffee expresso cups in case people can't manage a Christmas pud on the big day.

For the tartelettes, I lined a twelve hole muffin tray with shortcrust pastry discs, then used some leftover chicken jalfrezi for the filling: the meat I chopped and distributed evenly between the tarts. I then mixed the leftover curry sauce with two beaten eggs and a splash of milk. I poured the mixture into each of the tart cases and cooked the batch in a medium to hot oven (190 degrees) until the pastry was starting to colour and the filling was domed and golden as well as firm to the touch.
Tartelette a l'indienne
( I also experimented with filo pastry roughly laid in two of the muffin holes - and it worked just as well, as you can see above.)

The cake aux olives have featured often on the blog, as they are without doubt my my most popular recipe. If you missed it before- here is how to make them.

Mix 100g of self raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt, 100g of grated flavoursome cheese (mature cheddar, gruyere, emmental), 80 ml of olive oil, 3 beaten eggs, 150 g of chopped olives, 1 pot of natural yoghurt and a splash of milk together in a mixing jug. If the mixture is too stiff, mix in more milk. You are aiming for a thick spoonable cake batter.

Spoon or pour into muffin cases and bake at 200 degrees until risen and golden.

Cakes aux olives

Next, I prepared an enormous batch of beef ragout to go in the freezer. I used the slow cooker to save effort (and let it cook away whilst I'm busy with other stuff.) Soften 2 white onions and a teaspoon of minced garlic in some olive oil, then brown 1 kg of minced beef. Put it all in the slow cooker with 2 cartons of chopped tomatoes (I like the ones with extra olives added), a splash of red wine, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a good squirt of tomato puree and plenty of salt and pepper. Leave to bubble away for a few hours until rich and thick.

Slow cooker beef ragout

For the puddings, break up 150g of dark chocolate (70% cocoa solid) in a bowl and pour on 90ml of hot strong coffee. Finish the melting process in the microwave for 1 minute and then stir in a tablespoon of rum. Meanwhile separate 3 eggs and beat the whites to the very soft peak stage. When the chocolate has cooled a bit, whisk in the egg yolks and then fold into the whites. Pour the chocolate mixture into little espresso cups, cool and then freeze these in
plastic containers.

Chocolate and coffee pots

Now, like the USS Enterprise, my freezer cannae take much more. 

All I need now is for the guests to arrive - and for the festivities to begin!

Happy holidays!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Week 42- Discovering my innard goddess

Sorry about the pun- but it's better than going down the 'offally good' route.

Also, the goddess slot seems to have become unexpectedly vacant this week...

Anyway, I hope you've realized that this week's blog celebrates offal. Look away now if you're squeamish.

Don't be too scared though- it's delicious, costs pennies and is good, rustic fare.

To start - I've made a chicken liver parfait with melba toast, for main course I've prepared an oxtail pot au feu with herb dumplings, and dessert- well, it can't really contain offal so it's pretend- mincemeat vol aux vents (to get us in Christmas mood).

400g of chicken livers cost me just 99p- and this recipe makes 6 parfaits (ready for freezing and serving up over Christmas week).You need said quantity of chicken livers, 2 small shallots finely chopped, 1 teaspoon of  minced garlic, 1 large glass of port, 200g of butter, some fresh chopped rosemary and seasoning including a good grating of nutmeg.

Snip up the livers with kitchen scissors and add them to a frying pan where you have already softened the shallot and garlic in some olive oil. Cook through, and when they are still pink, add the port, salt and pepper and nutmeg and a big knob of butter. Boil rapidly until the port has reduced by half and the livers cooked a bit more.
Pour all of this into a food processor and blitz until smooth. If you like your pate extra smooth and creamy, you can add some cream at this point. I like mine crumbly and dark so I've left it out.

Spoon into ramekins. Then clarify the remaining butter - melt in a saucepan and then strain into a jug, throwing away the milky solids which remain in the strainer. Pour the butter over the parfaits and leave to chill in the fridge. Freeze when completely cool- or serve straightaway with melba toast and chutney.
(Melba toast made from a sliced stale French loaf, sprinkled with olive oil and baked in the oven until brown and crispy. I make it whenever the oven is on already, and freeze it in a plastic container until I need it).
Chicken liver parfait with melba toast

The oxtail pot au feu is a bit more time consuming and should be done over several days.

First, I trim off any excess fat from the outside of the oxtail and put the pieces in 2 glasses of red wine to marinade overnight.
The next day, I sear the tail pieces in a hot pan and put in the slow cooker, along with the boiled marinade, 1 large chopped onion, 4  whole cloves of garlic, 2 sticks of celery, 2  large carrots, 1 sliced turnip or parsnip, 2 bay leaves, 1 ripe tomato or some puree and some mushroom stalks. Anything you have going spare in the vegetable drawer will add to the richness of the stock.
Leave to gently cook on low heat for the rest of the day (8-10 hours or so).

Leave overnight to cool, take out the bay leaves and strain off the liquid into a separating jug or bowl. Skim off all the fat.
Take the meat from the oxtail bone and put in a casserole dish, put any large pieces of celery, carrot or parsnip into the dish too. Press the remaining veggie slush through a ricer and add to the dish. Make the concentrated stock up to 500ml with hot water and a beef stock cube. Pour over the meat and veg and place in a medium oven for 30 minutes or so until bubbling.
To make the dumplings, mix 1 tablespoon of margarine or vegetable fat into 1 cup of seasoned flour with 1 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt added. Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs and mix the dry ingredients to a soft dough by slowly adding some milk.
Form into walnut sized balls, and place in the bubbling casserole.

After another 30 minutes, the stew is ready and the dumplings are swollen and cooked through.

Oxtail pot au feu with herb dumplings

Dessert is simplicity itself- leftover vol aux vents cases lurking in the bottom of the freezer, cooked until risen and puffy. A teaspoon of mincemeat ( the curranty mixture used for mince pies - not real meat!) into each one until hot and bubbling. Serve with ice cream.
Mincemeat vol aux vents

And not a pig's head in sight!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Week 41- Back to my roots!

I don't know whether they release a pheromone into the air at the beginning of December- one that makes you start craving spice and citrus, brassicas and root veg- but I'm definitely susceptible to it.

Having a birthday in December has always made that month special for me- so many childhood tastes, smells and expectations. So, in common with Baldrick, I find myself getting excited when I see all the delicious root vegetables stacking up on the shelves when I'm shopping.

This is the season for cabbages and kale, sweet potatoes and swede , turnips and 'taters, parsnips, celeriac and carrots...

OK- enough.

This week's menu (I expect you've guessed) makes the most of the season's root veg: sweet potato and parsnip crisps with spicy dip followed by a celeriac gratin (with or without meat to accompany it) and finished off with a carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese topping.

Also, all of these dishes freeze well and can be brought out to the Christmas table next month.

Sweet potato and parsnip crisps

For the starter- sweet potato and parsnip crisps- a mandoline was recommended to produce the fine rondelles needed. I also experimented with a sharp knife and a food processor and - depending on the thickness of your sweet potato, either of these will do fine if you don't have a mandoline.
The main thing is to keep your slices as thin as possible, and as consistent.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees.
Scrub your veg but don't peel unless there are obvious blemishes.
Slice as thinly on the round as you can- with a knife, mandoline or processor.
Coat in a bowl with olive oil, fleur de sel, ground pepper and dried rosemary or thyme.

Line two large baking trays with greased foil and lay the rondelles out in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes or so, watch them to see if they begin to over-colour. You want them to curl up at the edges and brown evenly but not burn.
Allow them to cool for 5 minutes before serving- sprinkle with some more salt and pepper and serve with dips ( take a look back at blogpost 'Mexican Lucky' or search in the cloud above for 'salsa') for an idea.

These crisps will freeze well in a plastic container. When you are ready to use them, spread them out on a baking tray again and warm through until crispy.

Main course uses that ugly but scrumptious vegetable- celeriac. Think celery, meets potato, meets 'Day of the Doctor' and you have a celeriac.
So, any recipes that suit potatoes or celery (or even Doctor Who) go nicely.

I have made a celeriac gratin- with celeriac, creme fraiche, cheddar cheese and not much else.

Peel and thinly slice the celeriac and place in a bowl of acidulated water (water with lemon juice or white wine vinegar) to prevent browning.
When you are ready, rinse it off and put into a bowl with a small tub of creme fraiche, lots of salt and pepper, some chopped rosemary and a good handful of grated cheddar cheese.
Lay out evenly in a gratin dish and top with some more grated cheese.
Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) until the celeriac is tender and the top is golden and bubbling.
Celeriac gratin

This dish is great on its own- or with meat such as pork chops- or next day as leftovers with salmon. In fact it did us all three!

For pudding I made a carrot and walnut cake- simple sponge mix, 2 grated carrots, 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts and a teaspoon of mixed spice- mixed together and baked in a loaf tin for 25-30 minutes at 190 degrees until golden and risen- and when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack - and then decorate with cream cheese frosting ( a small tub of cream cheese mixed with a teaspoon of vanilla essence and 1-2 tablespoons of icing sugar) and shelled walnut halves.
Carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese frosting

So, a three course meal using an assortment of root vegetables.

Not expensive, nicely flavoured November nosh!