Christmas


‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

I said in my Christmas post that after years of striving to cook classic French dishes (from before the days of nouvelle cuisine) I was tending more and more towards simplicity, to the point of buying some elements of Christmas dinner from Marks and Spencer (branded as M&S now – stupid and probably why they have ‘lost the plot’ in all departments except food! I have always bought my wife a ‘little’ Christmas present from a particular department there, but if for 2016 Christmas it was difficult to find something, last year there was nothing at all appealing).

Back to food; I’ve said before on this blog that I rarely follow recipe’s exactly now, using them as a starting point for ‘doing my own thing’. I do intend to return to an ‘exotic’ – though still simple – starter next Christmas, prawns flambeed in Ricard, learned from the blog ‘My French Heaven’. Unfortunately, as it was one of my favourite blogs, there have been no posts on that since it was back, after a long break, in June last year which explained the absence and gave a recipe for a soup I like a lot in the summer; also simple, it’s ‘cheap as chips’ to make: vichyssoise

Part of the move to ‘simplicity’ in the kitchen has been prompted by a blogger friend discovered early last year who often posts a recipe for Latvian style food which, as she has said, is usually simple compared with, eg, French or Romanian but tasty nevertheless. The final link to a ‘simple’ recipe, for a ‘cake’, below is one of hers. As I had never made anything like it before I did follow her recipe, before making two variations with half the mix.

Something I have not made for a long time, simple yet really tasty, is a soup which, searching for it, I was surprised to find I had never posted a recipe. So here it is:

Tomato and cinnamon soup

Ingredients (for 2 starter servings – double, triple, etc everything for more)

Tomato and cinnamon soup

A can of tomatoes (or use fresh)
A small onion
A few cloves of garlic (to taste)
1 tspn of cinnamon (or more, again to taste)
A dollop of tomato puree
A preserved vegetable/herb mix – dried, bottled or a vegetable stock cube
Extra basil – dried or if fresh also for ‘decorating’.

Chuck everything into a pan (with some water, more if using fresh tomatoes), cook a little (15mins with canned tomatoes, maybe 30 with fresh), liquidise, taste and if you like more cinnamon put it in and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If a bit sour for your taste add one or two teaspoons of unrefined sugar. Reheat and serve with sour cream (or ‘sweet’ cream if you prefer). A variation: if you have a sweet red pepper looking alone cut that up and add to the tomatoes when cooking.

Cacio e pepe

? e pepe

The second ‘simple’ recipe comes from Corrie, another blogger I often go to for a ‘different’ veggie recipe (we eat ‘meatless’ twice a week though we are not vegetarian). In fact she suggested a variation on a celebrated Italian recipe, associated with Rome, ‘Cacio e pepe’ – Cheese and pepper. The year before last this dish became the ‘in thing’ (just as daft as the craze for Prosecco now being overtaken by fancy – ie expensive – gin).  Corrie’s variation adds cherry tomatoes – I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that as in general I don’t like cooked tomatoes (I know, that’s weird having in mind the recipe above, but nevertheless true). Bought tomatoes in UK are a disaster anyway, usually tasteless or worse, but there is one cherry variety which is acceptable – Piccolo – so I did not follow Corrie’s recipe but after taking the pasta out of the water in which I cooked the pasta I dropped the halved tomatoes in the water and cooked for a few minutes.

Both the authentic ‘Cacio e pepe’ and Corrie’s version are very simple – on the face of it. In fact it is, like spaghetti carbonara, not so simple to make the renowned dish well. It takes practice. However, even if not perfect it always tastes good. Important, stir the pasta occasionally while boiling so it does not clump together; have the cheese at room temperature and grate as finely as possible. I followed something between the authentic Italian method and Corrie’s. You’ll find Corrie’s recipe here:

https://corriesrabbitfood.com/2018/01/15/cacio-e-pepe-with-cherry-tomatoes/

Dulce de leche cake – no cooking

Four varieties of ‘dulce de leche’

Finally, I wanted to make a ‘surprise’ cake for my wife and took up a suggestion from my Latvian blogger friend Ilze. Very simple, ‘Dulce de leche’ cake is made of condensed milk simmered sealed in the can for 2-3 hours, butter and crushed biscuits. In Latvia they use Selga biscuits but Rich Tea are an excellent substitute here.

I made only a quarter of Ilze’s recipe (half a 397g can of Carnation condensed milk, everything else in proportion). I wasn’t certain my wife would like the taste of the original, which might be too ‘caramel’ for her, so I divided my mix into two and added a good slug of rum to one half. I then added powdered cocoa to half of that (don’t know how much – till I liked the colour!). The other half I also divided into two, adding poppy seeds to one part and grating chilli chocolate on the top of the other. Of course, it’s simpler just to make one and in the future I’ll make the one preferred – with cocoa and rum. The cocoa powder, being bitter, cuts the sweetness. The one with just rum tastes less sweet cold from the fridge.

You can make the cake(s) into any shape you like by forming with your hands. My guess is that children would love making this cake.

You’ll find Ilze’s recipe here:

Dulce de leche cake 

Notes:

The Carnation can has a warning not to boil in the can. Don’t worry, just make sure the can is well covered with water, adjust heat to be only just simmering and put a lid on it.

There was a good article about the ‘Cacio e pepe’ craze, with good advice for cooking it, in the Guardian the year before last. You’ll find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2016/nov/03/how-to-make-the-perfect-cacio-e-pepe

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First Christmas (part) with Petronela, 20 years ago. Just work colleagues then, as was Ana Maria on my other side – still a good friend

We are just two – my wife Petronela and me – for Christmas since my mum died. This year we are having our 18th Christmas together but it’s the 20th year we had a part of Christmas together. Twenty years ago I was living in the students’ hostel of the high school at which Petronela and I taught, she as history teacher and head of humanities, I as a volunteer English teacher (so living for free in the hostel). I invited some teacher colleagues for a ‘party’ in my little room and Petronela was one who came (my plan? 😜).

Stockings awaiting Santa

Even with just the two of us we like to make Christmas Day ‘special’, but a time of peace with no stress. So each year it becomes more and more simple. On the other hand, it always begins, after seeing what Santa put in our stockings (yes, we hang stockings like a couple of children) over coffee and (for me) tea, with the same ‘luxury breakfast’: smoked salmon (three different cures this year) with the ‘best scrambled eggs in the world’, as I learned from my mother, and ‘bubbly’ – Freixenet cava; it began by being the only ‘special’ bubbly we could find in Romania 18 years ago or at least one we could afford but, not a follower of fashion, I have not been diverted by the more recent craze for Prosecco (not as good anyway) nor champagne which we could now afford. Same with gin: the latest craze is expensive weirdly flavoured gins and expensive (in it’s true meaning, costing more than it’s worth) tonic; we both like gin and tonic but either Gordons or the excellent one at a good price from Aldi are good enough for us.

 

This year there was something new; usually we do not have any special meal on Christmas Eve but having received something very special from my dear Latvian blogger friend Ilze, and told they – grey peas – were a Christmas dish, I made to Ilze’s recipe, with onion and bacon, and had as the introduction to Christmas. Delicious! Ilze says they should be accompanied by kefir; having been to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Leeds a couple of days before that was easy to follow. Usually we buy the similarly tasting Romanian  ‘sana’ or ‘lapte batut’ there. 

Latvian ‘grey peas’ with onions and bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After breakfast we open little presents to each other, found below the Christmas tree. Petronela will always find a bottle of Bailey’s Irish cream and a bottle of Drambuie, I will unwrap a bottle of Scotch, among them and these will keep us going till it’s time to prepare Christmas dinner, not lunch but at about 7pm.

 

I titled this post ‘Christmas simplified’: gone are the days when I’d slave in the kitchen preparing classic French cordon bleu cuisine (neither of us much like turkey or traditional ‘Christmas pudding’). Now we rely on Marks and Spencer which has never let us down. So this year the starter was ‘king prawn and poached salmon terrine’, delicious enough to tempt us to eat two portions each! Main course was rack of venison, easy enough to roast leaving me only to prepare roast potatoes and parsnip, with lightly steamed brocolli, kaylettes, brussel sprouts and runner beans – easy enough. This washed down with the excellent Romanian red wine, from the fetească neagră grape grown in the Murfatlar region, ‘3 hectare‘, brought from Romania. Thanks to the double portion of starter neither of us could eat everything on the plate and needed a rest before the ‘Belgian chocolate and toffee sponge pudding’, an amazing creation with a chocolate flecked with gold dome being inverted over the steamed sponge and left to melt – very tasty if a bit too sweet, as I shall report to M&S, but a good finisher nevertheless.

Happy day

So, a lovely happy day, for the most part immersed in the astoundingly beautiful Romanian carols (I like to sing the English ones but most of these cannot match the Romanian ones for beauty), responding to some WordPress Christmas blog posts, sending and receiving Christmas greetings to dear friends in far off places (some made through WordPress blogs) by email or Messenger and chatting more, and exchanging photos, with one throughout the day – I won’t mention who so as not to embarrass her; let’s just say I’ve come to love her close immediate family though we’ve met only on the wonder of internet.

So, that was our Christmas ‘simplified’. Nothing special for today – Boxing Day – except to laze about, doing nothing special after clearing up the chaos in the kitchen (we don’t believe in ruining a good meal by clearing up after, not even loading the dishwasher!).

I hope you all had an equally happy Christmas Day as we did; I know some of you were not very well but I trust that despite this you had a day of peace and contentment.

Now, in our little household, we move on to New Year, a really big ‘celebration’ for most Romanians, made even more so for us as Petronela’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve so, following Romanian tradition, we have ‘open house’ with the table full of Romanian delights, of which more at the time.

lobsterChristmas breakfast & dinner – smoked salmon (three varieties), scrambled eggs and champagne; lobster, guinea fowl and chocolate pudding.

This year I intended to do minimal cooking apart from what has become our traditional breakfast (I’ve prattled on about scrambled eggs before so will not do so here and food blogging has really progressed since then) so set out with the idea of buying everything for dinner semi-prepared from Marks & Spencer – always reliable in the food department even if their clothes have gone off track (I blame their following of the common herd and rebranding as M&S!). However, the starter we had chosen was no longer available when I arrived to make the order and no alternatives appealed so I bought a lobster (Kirkgate market is just across the road), which forced me into doing a bit of cooking, making lobster in chaud-froid (summary recipe below).

The champagne (blame Marks and Spencer for the change from our usual Cava; the half price offer was tempting and the result was superb) and the ‘easy carve’ guinea fowl, with pork, leek and smoked bacon stuffing, were excellent. No fancy accompaniments, just roast potatoes, sprouts and cauliflower. The juices from the bird needed no enhancement to be a very tasty sauce. There should have been roast parsnips but they were ‘lost’ somewhere between the market and home!

We managed to make room for some M&S melt-in-the middle chocolate pudding with simple cream about 2 hours after finishing the main course – again very good (neither Petronela nor I like ‘Christmas pudding’).

Bordeaux Blanc and Syrah from Chile

A very good Bordeaux Blanc from Fortnum and Mason and an excellent Chilean Syrah, both gifts so a step up from our day-to-day plonk, completed the table (the second ‘bottle of red’ seen, also a present, is a candle which, apart from the wick, is almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing).

Best present!

One of the things I really love about the run up to Christmas is trying to come up with something ‘special’ for Petronela. Seems this year I succeeded with a cushion, which P has told her friends is “the best present I’ve had ever had”. Eric Clapton’s piece became ‘our song’ well before we married; for people who don’t know Romanian, Ursulețul is ‘The teddy bear’ – no need to tell you who!).

Recipe

Homard en chaud-froid (based on a recipe in my ‘bible’ for classic French cooking for the past 40 years or so – Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

  • Lobster boiled and meat extracted from the body. Claws retained whole for ‘decoration’.
  • Empty shell pieces returned to the liquid with a good slug of the wine to accompany lobster later. Simmered to extract all the flavour, shell drained and liquid reduced until a strongly flavoured stock remains. Body and tail shells cleaned to contain the chaud-froid.
  • Lobster meat chopped into small pieces, fried slowly in butter with a little onion, pinch each of mustard powder and chilli powder, for 2 mins, cognac added then reduced to almost no liquid. Well chilled.
  • A little powdered gelatine soaked in a little of the wine to be served (enough to softly set the sauce).
  • Equal quantities of single cream and the lobster stock simmered with a sprig of tarragon, until reduced to about 3/4. Extract tarragon and correct seasoning if necessary. Stir in softened gelatine until completely dissolved. Leave to cool until almost set.
  • Fold lobster meat into about 3/4 of the sauce, spoon into the shells, spoon rest of sauce over and decorate (I used a few slices of Italian white truffle).

Simples! … and simply delicious.

New Year (Revelion).

New Year is all about Romanian food so it’s Petronela’s turn and now I can relax, almost – cârnați (Romanian sausages) to be made, a joint effort. All prepared before New Year’s Eve which is also P’s birthday so following the Romanian (at least Moldavian) tradition, we stay at home and friends – anybody – can drop in and sample the feast. There’ll be at least a dozen different dishes on the table.

 

 

Boxing Day was restful: a superb walk up to the Chevin Inn for lunch. Time in the afternoon to watch again some of the great dancing in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the New Bradford Playhouse by watching my video clips (and later to put some more pictures and video clips up on the net – see below – as promised on the village blog which I edit).

We’ve called in the Chevin many times for a drink when walking back home from Otley Chevin but have never eaten there (though we quite often ate at sister pub The Stansfield Arms when we lived close to it). The food was good – wild mushrooms and gammon steak for Petronela, chicken liver parfait and braised lamb shoulder for me. The young people serving were very pleasant and efficient, and the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was an excellent accompaniment. All in all a good experience. (more…)

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Venison last year for Christmas dinner so I wondered what I could do for something different this year. I settled on wild boar from Ballinwillin House Farm in County Cork, Ireland. It arrived today, just as requested, brought by DHL (and what an excellent tracking system they have!). There are only two of us so I ordered a four bone rack; it looks great. I especially like the look of that black-speckled skin over the substantial layer of white fat. (I also ordered some belly and both wild boar and venison sausages, so bringing the total cost up to the level meriting free delivery). I will, of course, let you know how it tastes on the day.

A case of stouts and porters (more…)

I’ve mentioned before that I like to ‘save’ as much of Christmas as possible until Christmas Day. So, we open our Christmas cards over  breakfast, except for those to each other which we open on awakening, together with whatever Father Christmas has left in our stockings.

I opened my card to find this:

MyChristmasCard_1060903

Scary! As one of the presents to my wife, to be opened over breakfast, was these:

ChristmasUndies_1060905

I got it right, as I always have (though she changes from year to year), but I can never remember the damned perfume!