Thursday, 29 December 2011

Turkey Sausage Rolls

Merry Christmas, everyone - we did it! In a tour of three different family homes, we ate two turkey dinners in one afternoon and another the following day. Oh god, just thinking of it again makes me feel slightly nauseous. Don't get me wrong, they were all completely delicious - and with families as big and as scattered as ours, this was the only way that we could satisfy (almost) everyone - but still, there's been a lot of turkey. And stuffing. And sausages, bacon, sprouts, roast potatoes, parsnips, chocolate and gravy. My clothes are distinctly tighter than they were last week. God, no wonder everyone goes on diets in the New Year.

Anyway, before diner's remorse kicks in and while we're still on holiday, there's leftover turkey to be eaten! Does that exclamation mark convey enough enthusiasm? What do you mean, you're sick of bloody turkey? Look, I've already had it sandwiched and pied and there's still some left. Which means embracing the next festive tradition (after gluttony and buying too-much-food) - turkey rolls.

This is another family recipe which my mum and I have been making every Christmas for as long as I can remember. This year, controversially, we experimented with a few tweaks and made what were called, and I do not exaggerate, "the best turkey rolls ever" (copyright: my Dad, yesterday). I feel this is a good omen for the coming year. Or at least, a clear indication of how to make the New Year better - just add fat.

Specifically, we added some sausage meat. In previous years our turkey rolls have just consisted of minced leftover meat, bound with a bit of gravy, onion and mushroom, and wrapped in shortcrust pastry (never puff!). And they were always tasty, but just..a bit dry. A bit crumbly. A bit "I need some ketchup/baked beans/pickle/anything faintly wet or this will become a festive version of the cream cracker challenge".

This year, with the addition of plenty of sausage meat, the finished rolls were a triumph - crisp pastry, rich, succulent filling and plenty of flavour. And the best thing? You can put them straight into the freezer and give yourself a break from bloody turkey. Is anyone else really craving steamed vegetables and fish now? Just me?

 Turkey Sausage Rolls

- leftover cooked turkey (the more brown meat the better. We had about three good handfuls of meat)
- 6 sausages, peeled of their skins. Yes, this bit is quite gross, but also weirdly satisfying.
- any leftover stuffing, chestnuts, gravy, or all three. You'll need some kind of goop so if you don't have any leftover gravy then I'd be tempted to make up some bisto.
- an onion
- a handful of mushrooms. Some dried ones, soaked, would be nice here too if you want a stronger mushroom taste
- an egg
- salt, pepper
- a splash of worcester sauce
- a pack of all-butter shortcrust pastry (or make your own, but we were using up stuff from the freezer)
- flour for rolling out the pastry
- another egg, beaten, for glazing the rolls.

Preheat the oven to about 180C and line a couple of baking trays with parchment or greaseproof paper.

The easy way to do this is with a food processor, the hard way is with lots of chopping and stirring. Either way, finely chop the onion and chestnuts first, then chuck in the turkey, the sausage meat, the stuffing, the gravy (not too much at first - you want the final result to be moist, not soup), the mushrooms, the egg, salt, pepper and worcester sauce. Then pulse cautiously just until everything is chopped and well combined. Go slowly, you don't want a slurry.

Roll out the pastry onto a well floured surface and cut down the middle into two long rectangles. Form long sausage shapes of meaty mixture down the middle of each rectangle, and brush one of the edges with a little beaten egg or water. Then roll the other long edge of the pastry over the meat and over again onto the egg or water-brushed edge, so that you've got one long, pastry-wrapped roll. 

Cut into rolls about 7cm long (3inches) and transfer to the baking sheets. Cut two slits into each roll then brush them in beaten egg. Bake for about half an hour, until golden and crunchy-edged. Eat with plenty of green salad - remember salad? - and some crunchy, sour pickles.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Spiced Dark Chocolate and Ginger Tart

It's almost time! Are you excited? Are your stockings hung and your presents wrapped? Will you remember to leave out a snack for Father Christmas tonight? When I was little we always left a mince pie and a drink, something strong to fortify him through the cold and the chimneys. There wasn't any annual consensus about what he'd like. Each year we were told to ask Daddy what he thought Father Christmas would want, and he would duly advise a port, sherry or whisky (or even, I seem to remember, a Bishop's Finger one year). Looking back, this whole "ask Daddy" thing seems a bit suspicious but we never queried it at the time - I suppose that we just agreed that he was best placed to advise, as a fellow white-bearded man. Anyway, whatever he suggested always seemed to go down pretty well with Santa, who left nothing but a drained glass and a few crumbs on Christmas morning. That is scientific PROOF that he really did come. But we never left a carrot out for Rudolph. Hard-hearted to animals, our household!

For the first time ever I'm spending Christmas with another family in another house, and their rituals are all different. They don't watch The Snowman - in fact, they never have. They eat Chinese on Christmas Eve. And they have duck spring rolls for a starter on Christmas Day. I'm shocked that they even eat a starter before their Christmas Lunch! It all seems very wrong to me.

As a guest I'm not allowed to cook, but I was asked to take a pudding to lunch today with my family and I gratefully and gleefully seized my legitimate excuse to get back in the kitchen. This tart was the result - rich and indulgent, a change from mincemeat or Christmas pudding but still Christmassy thanks to the spices. I selflessly taste-tested the crust and the filling while cooking (I know - such sacrifices) and they were both cracking, so my hopes were high. As was the calorie count. Oh well, we can't have everything.

The tart came out as a solid chocolate truffle surrounded by biscuit, rich and heavy and pretty damn good. The spices were there but not overwhelming, and I think the recipe is really versatile - you could easily add orange oil or zest, or change the flavour of biscuits, or even stir through some cherries. But in the meantime, this spiced, gingered chocolate means that the Christmas feasting has officially begun and I'm already feeling pretty full. Merry Christmas everyone!
Spiced Dark Chocolate and Ginger Tart
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 225g ginger biscuits
- 60g salted butter, melted
- 340g dark chocolate
- 230ml whipping cream
- 1 large egg and 2 large egg yolks
- 60g of sugar (she doesn't specify, I used golden caster for a bit of a caramel flavour)
- 1 tablespoon of plain flour
- 1/8 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (I just did quite a few grinds of the peppermill)
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
Preheat oven to 165C and fish out a 9inch tart pan with removable bottom (snigger).
Start by blitzing the chocolate in the food processor until finely chopped, then pour it out into a big saucepan and set aside while you make the crust. If you prefer you can chop the chocolate by hand, but this is much quicker and a few chocolate crumbs in the crust won't hurt anyone.
Whiz the ginger biscuits in the food processor until they're reduced to fine crumbs, then add the melted butter and blitz again until well combined. Pour this out into the tart pan and press it down firmly on the bottom and around the sides. Place the tin on a baking sheet with a rim just in case it leaks or oozes.
Add the cream to the chocolate and put the saucepan over a low heat, whisking together until the chocolate is melted and it's all nice and smooth. Take it off the heat and set aside to cool down a bit.
In a big bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, sugar, flour, pepper, salt and cinnamon until well combined. Slowly and gradually whisk in the chocolate mixture until smooth and glossy. Then pour it into the crust and bake the tart for about half an hour, or until the filling is puffing slightly at the edges and the centre is just set. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes then have a go at removing the edges of the tin.
This is rich so serve in small slices at room temperature with softly whipped cream - sweetened, vanilla-ed or plain as you fancy.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Jingle the Bells, Deck the Halls, Eat the Mince Pies

In the bleak mid-winter, it's all been a bit quiet around here. There was a flurry of chilli, and a seasonal salad - and even a cake studded with fudge - but beyond that, nothing. December has been silent and snow-dusted on this blog and that makes me sad. But the problem is that we're still staying with family while we wait to move into our new house (one month to go!), so we still don't have a kitchen or any chance to cook. At the most, I'm allowed to peel potatoes or chop carrots in someone else's kitchen, all the while trying not to think about hot chocolate peppermint fudge sauce or any of the other million things on my "recipe to try" list. I'm telling you, it's a kind of torture. While we count down the days until we get a kitchen - a whole house, even - of our own, things will have to stay a bit quiet around here. But in the meantime I've decided to inflict on the blog some terrible phone photos of festivities. 

Christmas shopping has been handled by Mr Internet and Mr Postman, and presents are now smugly wrapped and ribboned.

The Christmas trees at my parents' house have been decorated, one tasteful:

And one not-so:

Fires have been lit:

And baubles have been shoved into bell jars. This is part "stylish, White-Company-style Christmas decoration" and part "oh my god we have so many decorations - three trees seems a bit excessive, what can we do with the rest of these?"

I can't wait to get back here in the New Year with new house, new kitchen, new recipes and new kitchen gadgets - but in the meantime, I hope that you all have very merry Christmases. 2012 is going to be a good one, I can feel it.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Inauthentic Christmas Chilli

I know that what I'm about to say will shock many people. It may sever friendships. It may even mean I have to hand in my "I am a Woman" membership card and resign all rights to dresses, nail varnish and Stylist magazine on a Tuesday. But here goes. Love Actually really pissed me off.

I mean, I see why people liked it. Lots of different actors, lots of different stories, all basically happy and upbeat except for the sad Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman one which just illustrated for the umpteenth time that they are infinitely better actors than anyone else in the same film (and definitely better than Claudia Schiffer "acting"). There's snow! There's chirpy cockneys and so-called adorable children! Hair is shiny, houses are Christmassy and the Prime Minister is infinitely better looking than you'd ever get in real life. An hour and a half of casual, Christmassy fluff, not particularly demanding and all tied up with a big red bow. I mean that literally - didn't you see the poster?

But the thing that really pissed me off, beyond the shallowness of the storylines and Keira "I have a chin, that's as good as acting" Knightley, was that Richard Curtis just MADE UP a piece of Christmas mythology and everyone seems to have accepted it. The central tenet of most of the love stories in the film is that "it's Christmas, and that's when people tell people that they love them, so I'm going to make this big, dramatic declaration of love because it's Christmas and that's what you do". 

That's not what you do! No one has ever said or thought that before! There are many cultural tropes around Christmas - and I won't list them here - but the idea that Christmas prompts gushy declarations of romantic love is just MADE UP. And everyone in the film pretends that it's as much part of Christmas as Santa or stockings, but it's not and it really bugs me. So there! Phew, I've carried that peeve around for a while.

Anyway, the other day was frosty and dark and we needed sustenance for decking the halls. We were craving butternut chilli but our fridge was full of all sorts of ingredients which needed using up, but which weren't chilli-ish at all. Bacon, chestnuts, get the drift. So we just made it anyway, and absolutely delicious it was too. I know that this can't really be called a chilli, not by any stretch of the imagination, but now I'm going to pretend that it's a perfectly normal thing to do. Because it's CHRISTMAS. Pfff.  

Inauthentic Christmas Chilli

- 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
- about a quarter of a butternut squash, washed and cut into chunks
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 rashers of bacon, chopped
- half a vacuum pack of chestnuts, roughly chopped
- cayenne pepper
- smoked paprika
- ground cumin
- 1 tin of kidney beans with their goop from the tin
- 1 tin of borlotti beans, also with their goop
- 1 tin of tomatoes
- a tablespoon of cocoa powder
- a tablespoon of red wine vinegar (for a bit of a twang)

As with the butternut chilli, boil the parsnip and carrot chunks for 20-30 minutes or until tender, while you fry the onion, garlic and bacon in a large saucepan. When they're golden, add in the spices and chestnuts and stir well for a minute or so to warm the spices. Then pour in the beans and tomatoes, stir in the cocoa and let the whole lot simmer for 15 mins or so.

Drain the parsnip and carrot once they're done and add them. At the end, stir through the vinegar and taste for hotness - you can always add a bit of tabasco if you want it more fiery. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Crunchy Brussels Sprout Salad

I know that many people will have taken one look at the title and clicked away from the page without reading on. I know that if I'd gone for the original name (of Raw Brussels Sprout Salad), even more people would have gone straight for the little x in its box and run shrieking from the brassica monster. But honestly, truly, stay! It's festive! It's healthy! It's worth a try, I promise!
I think I can hear tumbleweed. Well, for those of us who are not afraid of the Big Bad Brussel, this was a whole new way of preparing them in the Dine at Mine household. I've never eaten sprouts raw before - never known that it was an option - but it was an experiment and I plunged boldly into the great unknown. And, to be honest, it was only moderately successful. I noticed the recipe in a weekend newspaper and it reminded me of the raw asparagus salad I loved which had similarly bemused me at first. I thought "huh", flicked the page and carried on with my day. But it kept coming back to me, dancing around the periphery of my vision and daring me to try it. "Raw sprouts! You've never tried them before. It might be good. It might be amazing! Try me try me try me." They're tenacious little buggers, sprouts.
The end result was nice, but not amazing - although it was fresh and crunchy, it also tasted sort of...grassy. As a salad? Nowhere near as nice as the asparagus one. And as a way of doing sprouts? Nowhere near the top of the list. When you can scorch sprouts ever so slightly in a hot pan and toss them buttery, winey chestnuts and bacon, why would you ever do this? Well, as an experiment. And now I can say that I did. And, what's more, I don't ever have to experiment with it again. After all, in just over three weeks' time there'll be cold turkey and stuffing! No way in hell is this salad replacing brussels bubble and squeak on my leftovers table.
Crunchy Brussels Sprout Salad
Adapted from the Telegraph
Serves 2 as a starter
- 10 brussels sprouts, peeled and trimmed
- a bowl of iced water
- a good squeeze of lemon juice
- about 20g of parmesan
- olive oil, salt and pepper
Slice the sprouts very finely and drop them in the iced water until you're ready to eat. We were ready to eat pretty much immediately but I thought it might be an important step in the process  (for tenderising, maybe?) so dunked them anyway.  
Drain the sprouts and dry them well with a tea towel or salad spinner. Then squeeze some lemon over them, drizzle a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and shave or grate in the parmesan. Mix well, taste to check the flavours, and adjust as necessary. Done!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Toffee Apple Fudge Cake

Remember Dine at Mine's Mummy, who invited me round to bake and blog and laid out all the ingredients in advance in teeny glass bowls like Delia? Well, she's at it again. She spotted this recipe on telly, started stockpiling fudge and before I knew it, we were a-baking and a-tasting on a Sunday morning. Before making a batch of mince pies in the afternoon. It's been quite a greedy weekend, to be honest.

Apple puddings are my all time favourite and I've been on the hunt for a good apple cake for a few years, but this is a pretty strong contender. Studded with lumps of fudge and cheeky chunks of fruit, topped with a sticky toffee layer of apple slices, it ticked almost all the right boxes.

Served hot with clotted cream or ice cream - or, let's be honest, both - the fudge chunks melted into pockets of goo in the middle of a damp and spicy cake. Once cold, it was slightly more difficult to eat: sticky, crumbly and (in the case of the fudge) chewy. But still tasty. And who cares how much of a mess you make of yourself at work? Well, don't ask my colleagues.

But in true nit-picking style, there are a few things I'd change next time. We queried the quantity of fruit and spices while making it - and while we decided to trust the recipe this time, it turns out that we WERE right and we SHOULD have doubled the fruit and halved the spice. Vindicated! In your face, recipe! Ahem. I mean, it's all a good learning experience and it's the taking part that counts, and all that stuff. We knew we were right though.

It will be all mincemeat and yule logs from now on but if you fancy a final autumnal fling before embracing the festive season, this cake is a good place to start. Just try not to eat all the little fudge bits before you get them into the cake. And remember that everything tastes better if all the ingredients are measured out in little glass bowls first. Didn't you see Delia? It's obviously what the cool kids do.


Toffee Apple Fudge Cake
Adapted from BBC Food website

- 200g red apples, peeled and cored (probably two apples)
- 150g soft fudge, cut into small chunks
- half a tablespoon of mixed spice
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 175g butter, softened
- 150g dark soft brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 250g plain flour
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm loose-bottomed tin. The melted fudge will try to glue this cake to the tin so you really do need to line it properly. I know, it's a pain.

Slice half of one of the apples thinly and chop the rest into small chunks. Scatter about half of the fudge into the bottom of the tin, and arrange the apple slices prettily on top. Toss the chunks of apple with the spices in a little bowl. 

Beat together the butter and sugar until it's paler and fluffy, then beat in the eggs. Add the flour and baking powder and beat just until smooth and well combined. Stir through the spicy apple and remaining chunks of fudge. The cake mix will seem quite solid but that makes up for the juiciness of the apple, so don't fret.

Spoon the cake mix over the apple and fudge in the tin, smooth off the top and bake for 45 mins to an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake is starting to shrink away around the edges. Flip it out onto a plate and serve with something rich and creamy like ice cream or clotted cream. I don't think anyone would object to custard.
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