Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Mad Christmas Eve Food Prep

It sure is a super way to get most of the stress that the Christmas dinner can bring out of the way early. Get it done Christmas eve. The whole family is dragged down and we have a groggy embittered morning that turns in to a fully fledged cook-fest once we get in to the swing of it. Or once the coffee has been made.

First on the menu is the token Pineapple Basted Ham. Nom. 

Brown Sugar, Pinapple Juice and Chunks heat these until sugar is dissolved in the juice. Meanwhile, after having cut the skin off the ham (but leaving some fat to keep the moisture in) stir some dried Colman’s English Mustard powder in with a little water until you get a thick paste and smear all over the sides of the ham. Crush a tablespoon or more of cloves and throw it on top of the mustard paste so that the cloves stick to it. If the ham is falling apart, as they sometimes do – pop a skewer or two in to hold it together. Place it in a roasting dish with the pineapple/sugar sauce at the bottom of the tin.

Pop in the oven at 150 degrees celcius for 30 minutes, and then baste with the sauce. Repeat the basting process every 20 minutes until cooked, depending on the weight this can take 2-3 hours.

I’ve always found it hard to tell when a ham is cooked, the easiest way is probably to slide a skewer or knife through the thickest bit and ensuring there is no resistance. Nom. We’ve done this tonight so all it needs it reheating before the dinner tomorrow – and it leaves the oven free for the all important turkey! Slice and serve. Nom nom nom.

Dad has decided this year that while we will have brussel sprouts they won’t be the normal boiled or steamed ones. Instead he has made a Brussels sprout, bacon concoction with Lea and Perrin’s Worcester sauce. It’s exactly what it says on the tin.

Still tastes of Brussels sprout though. Nothing a bit of white pepper can’t cure.

The stuffing – also prepared the night before is another change to the menu. For the last few years we have collected edible chestnuts and roasted them in an ancient brass chestnut roaster on the fire. Yeah yeah, there was a song about it once etc. They are lovely though.

Takes me back to Switzerland at christmas when there were stalls at all the Christmas markets where you’d pay the equivilant of a euro and get a neatly folded cone of newspaper rolled up tightly holding a handful or two of roasted chestnuts. They’d be too hot to eat so you’d just warm your hands on them and then slowly peel the skin off and much on the hot nuts while walking through the snow.

We bunged ours in the oven. Then ground a loin of pork with sage and rosemary in the blender, added a load of onion and bread crumbs and some butter.  (Not a lot of butter is needed in this stuffing, unlike some other stuffings – the fat from the pork loin compensates so you don’t lose out on the moisture!) Chestnuts out of the oven and shelled. Grind them roughly and pop them into the stuffing, mix well and stuff into washed bird.

Or if you’re not keen on having the stuffing you’re going to eat in the bird, wrap it in tinfoil and cook. A little serving goes a long way on the day!

So that’s that. Tomorrow morning we need to get the turkey finished and in the oven, get the blini starter ready and the rest of the veg in already prepped and ready to go.

Nom nom nom. Nommy Christmas everyone!

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Pre-Christmas Lunch, Cheeses and Other Nibbles

Every year, we are lucky enough to have our parents take us out for a pre-Christmas lunch. Last year it was the Westin, this year they went all out and brought us to Thornton’s, Kevin Thorton’s restaurant on the first floor of the Fitzwilliam Hotel at St. Stephens Green. Definitely one of the top three restaurants in Ireland at the moment.  Second best meal of my life. EVER (The best meal of my life was probably Chapter One earlier in November this year, unbelievable.) 

So I couldn’t take photos of the food, I was a bit too scared for that. I had slow roasted quail, with a little brioche and bog oak sauce, with an added smokey poached quail egg served on the side! Also had was braised pig’s head and although I personally am very sceptical of anything to do with the head of an animal, (it was a rolled, braised and seared slice of pig cheek and jaw) it was delicious. I will definitely consider cheek or ‘head’ if ever on a menu in the future.

For the main I had peppered milk-fed veal with a fondant potato and broccoli mousse. Textures were interesting and the pepper somewhat overpowering but the meat was so tender it just melted in my mouth. Goose breast and John Dory were the other favourites at the table. My parents decided to pay corkage fees and bring their own wine a 2004 Puligny Montrachet and a 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Chateau Payas, I think?). Unbelievable wines that just blew our minds, (and I don’t even understand them for what they really are, but I do appreciate that they are amazing).

I thought there was no question on the desert front – The lemon curd tart and raspberry sorbet was just divine, however the cheese platter was popular and a warm chocolate fondant and coconut something was amazing according to my brother. God I love when my parents cover costs for these kind of amazing experiences. That said the price was very very reasonable for what you were getting at €47 a head it was a steal in terms of quality. But it was the lunch menu, and lord knows I didn’t see the final bill!

So when guests come over, planned or unplanned the fridge is usually packed with cheese. Because, there is nothing like a fabulous plate of cheeses and some homemade bread or a selection of crackers. Add to that some wine and you’ve got a party! Recently I picked up these three cheeses, all raw unpasteurised  and delicious! They are from corleggy and I got one smoked cows milk cheese (Drumlin smoked), a hard goats cheese (Creeny) and a softer sheeps milk one whose name I’ve forgotten. And my little brother acquired this nifty bodum cheese/chocolate slicey thing, (see picture) one which you can sort of ‘mill/slice/scrape’ off a slice of cheese.

Anyway I am madly in love with the smoked Drumlin one, a slice of that with some relish on a burger is just the bees-knees after a long day!

But we are very open to many other cheeses, the Corleggy ones are from Cavan, Co. Ireland, but out fridge usually stocks a huge variety. Brie, St Agur, Comte and a load of different cheddars are staples in the cheese box and then we often have Manchego, Gruyere or Camembert floating around too. There is never enough cheese. Fact.

So cheese is a fabulous nibble to have when guests are around. We also love our mine pies, see an early post for why mine are the best ever mince pies! Nom. I love making hors d’oeuvre sized mince pies, the baby version. However they do take up much more time than the bigger ones, but there is just something cute and nifty about normal foody things that are small!

Mini-any recipe floats my boat – Nomnilicious.

The Christmas Dinner and Puddings are next.

Nom nom nom.

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Ireland, Germany, Salmon and Christmas Cookies

I have had two main cultural influences in my life, the Irish culture (mainly given that my parents are Irish) and the German culture (my childhood in Switzerland, my education in a German school and my very German partner!). Christmas becomes a big mesh of the two cultures because so many of the family friends are one or the other. Many celebrate Christmas on the eve of the 24th, however we still stick to the token Christmas Day 25th celebrations.

One of the German-influenced build-ups to Christmas is the baking of Plätzchen, a German word for something in between a cookie or a biscuit, but not exclusively either one. In our house we take the phrase lightly and have over the years experimented with a variety of delicious Christmas treats to have for guests, gifts and anyone suffering from the nom-nom-munchies. Many of the recipes come from a tattered well worn Swiss Plätzchen cook book, old scribbles on sheets when friends of ours hastily jotted down a recipe, or my mothers immense cook book collection that takes up its own bookshelf unit in the kitchen.

The point? We love baking these biscuits. It’s a sign Christmas has arrived, it’s time to whip out the Plätzchen. Obviously, you think cookies or biscuits of any kind aren’t particularly healthy or ideal if you’re on a diet, but I have always found that in comparison to “normal” or “conventional” desserts like bought tins of biscuits, or tins of Roses, Christmas Pudding with Custard or whatever other Christmas goodies you eat – I invariably over-eat on those treats. When I bake my own biscuits, or even eat other peoples there is something quite rich and filling about one or two biscuits, and more often than not I am able to leave it at that.

So what’s on the menu you ask? Well. At the far left corner there are Hazelnut and Vanilla Logs from Rachel Allen’s Bake. Right in front of them are the Almond Gipfeli (A swiss name for a croissant) a favourite in our house. Behind them are Chocolate and Hazelnut Chunkys and behind them in the far right corner are the Raisin and Shortbread Coins (these are one of my favourites. Nom) In front of the coins is a new addition this year, my mom has always wanted to bake her own Biscotti and this was the year, nuts, chocolate and double baked goodness. In the middle there’s a basic Lemon Biscuit and a Crunchy Iced Oat Plätzchen in the front right corner. And  in the middle at the front a Crunchy German Jam Bake (credit for which must go to the brother girlfriend). By the time I got the camera, five of the last six mince pies had been eaten by my teenage brothers. 

So, Plätzchen are delicious, everyone makes their own variety of cookies and biscuits at this time of year – the most important thing is that you enjoy the process of making, baking and feeding yourself and others.

For a while now I’ve been on this loss-weight get-fit regime that involves primarily no-carbs and a balance of protein, fruit and veg. MUCH MUCH easier said than done. [For those interested in this stuff, it’s a healthier version of the Dukan Diet, with a dash of that weird Caveman diet on the side. ie. reduce intake of processed foods, and don’t eat carbs. So it is working, although I have hit a bit of a plateau on the losing weight, but definitely feeling better etc.]

Anyway I have often found difficulties waking up in the morning and needing a good breakfast to get me started for the day (and given the lack of carbohydrates allowed this means no cereal, toast, porridge or most of the normal nice hot warm breakfast things I’d normally have coming into the cold season!). However, I have found a way around this. Eggs.

Now eggs are just amazing things in themselves. I love eggs, you can do so much with them. I am an avid supporter of if you’re going to use an egg, you better not split it “because the yolk is too fatty and high in cholesterol” or you “don’t like the white” – it’s this ridiculous fallacy that only the white is good for you. The yolk does contain cholesterol, but it also contains huge amounts of vitamins A,B,E and K and essential fatty acids. So please don’t get rid of the yolk or the white (except of course in baking, meringue or custard etc.)

Not only do I like eggs, but Christmas time seems to bring some things into the house more than others. Guests for one. But guests often bring gifts – big tins of Roses or Celebrations. But more importantly there is always more Smoked Irish Salmon floating around the fridge than normal. It’s a weird one to point out, but our fridge always seems to have at least one pack of it on a shelf somewhere. (It is after all the easiest starter to whip up, sliced lemon, smoked salmon on buttered soda bread. Boom. Started/nibbles sorted.)

I love smoked Irish salmon, and I’m going to be picky here. The Irish Dept of Food and Agriculture require food producers to specify where the food came from (ie. country) with a small little stamp (IE  for Ireland, UK for United Kingdom, GE for Germany etc.) THEY DO NOT require a producer to be specific in the naming of their food produce.

As a result “Smoked Irish Salmon” is NOT the same as “Irish Smoked Salmon”. The latter being Norwegian salmon for example, caught in Norway, shipped to Ireland and smoked in a warehouse outside of Dublin. NOT an authentic Irish product, but the unknowing consumer may be fooled. Although personally the fact that the location of the smoking procedure in itself can determine the naming of the product baffles me, unless the smoking were unique to said location. Anyway one of my pet peeves.

So with my love for eggs, all this Salmon swimming around and me on a no-carb diet, my breakfasts are looking better and better. I love eggs, have I said that already? Boiled, poached, cobbled, not too keen on fried but whatever. I am very fond of the baked egg.

Line a ramekin dish with butter, if you want, I don’t. Diet etc. Take a couple of table spoons of smoked salmon shredded, with a knife, I tear it myself and pop it in to the bottom of the ramekin, lining the side of the dish. Crack one egg (or two if you’re hungry) on top. If you’re feeling naughty add a knob of butter, or as I have seen some people do a drop of cream, or milk. I am a mad fan of pepper so a nice scatter of it on the top. Often depending on how I’m feeling I’d throw on some cayenne or some chopped chives from the garden. Make sure the egg white is cooked through. It’s quite a feat to have the egg white cooked and yolk still soft and runny so practice with temperature and timing in your oven.

Serve steaming hot with a slice of toast, or some fruit salad as a nice solid healthy breakfast.

That’s one of my warm winter breakfasts using the Salmon we always have around at this time of year.

Nom nom and out.

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Christmas and the Bibles

There’s something about the way we celebrate Christmas, brushing right passed the loss of the true meaning behind Christmas and nativity and how its become a huge money-driven red and white tinsel-fest holiday, I love the differences in Christmas day food and all the Christmas season foods included in the whole package – that aspect of the celebration is most fascinating. Why is it that we just stuff ourselves until our dad has to roll us on to a couch? ?No? Nobody else? Okay I’m on my own there. But you get the idea. At least you must have to pop a button on the trousers..

Christmas, to me, is a time to share love and joy and do all of this over games and good food (and a little to drink).  Food is the key here again, hence, ye old blog (a whole two posts old). Again my mother has played a huge role in this, because she would have made the dinner, and more often than not decided unequivocally what is on the menu; a menu that is meticulously planned every year, in spite of the lack of change to it. And if any change, only minor change. The whole festive season is created by the build up to the big day, the presents, the time off work/college/school and the meal you share with others on that day.

While the menu is extensive I will have to deal with the different parts individually..

I am particularly partial to the delicacy that is the mince pie. However, I am not keen on any other mince pie than the one I make (or my mothers, but its the same recipe). We make it using the BIBLE*. [In our house: *The Bible a published book containing a collection of recipes by THE QUEEN**.] [In our house: **THE QUEEN is Ms. Delia Smith, crazy fan and partial owner of Norwich FC, BUT more importantly one of the best CLASSIC cooks, who teach you to cook for yourself, for others, for love, for parties and to cook for the enjoyment of food!] We have three copies of the Bible in the house!

So, we use the BIBLE, because we don’t follow the normal mince pie recipe, which a) should use suet (although I would be very happy to use this) and b) we don’t use a shortcrust/shortbread pastry. INSTEAD, we use Delia’s QUICK FLAKY PASTRY, a lighter texture, but heavier in terms of the butter content vs. flour content. It doesn’t crumble so much as crisp and flake and is really crunchy when bitten into. This is an amazing contrast when the addition of the mince, cream or brandy butter is taken into account. It’s delicious.

I haven’t found a better mince pie out there and while my “faver” (favourite) is this recipe – I am always happy to try others.

Anyway, try it. Nom nom and out.

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A Nommy Food Journal Begins..

This will hopefully be a collection of recipes, dishes and meals made which I will both make myself and experience elsewhere in the world. My own personal relationship with food has always been important, and very much tied into the experience I get from it.
Food being somewhat of a necessity for most  of us has over recent years been highlighted for its flaws in our society, especially where health is considered. Recently both in my education and my personal life I have had to re-evaluate what kind of food one should value and how nutritional values can be upheld in the battle against financial, mass-production line processed produce and our own desire for fast-fixes.

Since we, my brothers and I, were  children we have loved cooking. My mother has always been exceptionally enthusiastic, passionate and extremely talented at putting together a meal that you’d be ready to fight a bear for. She’s also a perfectionist, although that obsessive streak has dulled over the years. I have however found it interesting to meet many people, children and adults alike who simply don’t enjoy cooking and don’t value, what I would term, quality food.

I was 12 years, or possibly even younger and suffered dreadfully from what I suppose you could call depression (having moved to Ireland  from Switzerland and left a very structured life with school, friends and hobbies and exchanged it for a world with little sunshine, and no snow). By 14 I had developed a extremely bad relationship with food, over eating when life’s stresses became too emotionally challenging. Weight loss programs, weight watchers, non-dairy diets and a variety of other attempts left me hovering on the overweight to obese line for most of my teens. I am still considered obese.

About 8 weeks ago I started a new program, but not only that it was a change of heart. I decided that for me, for my partner and future children, for my health , I would have to do something about this growing (outward not upward) problem. It was a decision that required me to take action against an emotional problem that has plaqued me for well over a decade, and at 22 that’s far too much time to have spent worrying, crying and being bullied for something that I was not mature enough to have dealt with alone.

While I have had support, especially from my parents, the real will to change had not yet come to me. I am on my way to a healthy weight, a better fitness and a much deeper understanding of the food we should be eating, what our world actually provides us on the average menu and ultimately a greater appreciation for the food I eat every day.

Nom nom and out.

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