Sunday, 4 December 2011

Diary of a Wannabe Cook - Part 1

At 26 (dangerously near 27) years young I hosted and cooked my very first full-on Christmas Dinner, just this Friday past.

Despite the assistance I received from my comrades, I still have renewed respect and admiration for my Mum and my Aunt who for many years have been alternating on taking responsibility for this task for quite often twice as many people! Ladies, I doff my chefs hat to you, seriously.

The first medal of recognition has to go to my cousin Liz who was on Ham and Stuffing duty - you cannot beat a roast ham under any circumstances and Christmas or not it really should be a staple. Not least for all the amazing sandwiches you can get out of it during the following weeks.

During the Festive season, with family, I think it's fair to say that remaining relatively neutral with how you jazz up your ham is a safe bet. Friday's ham was a tasty, simply roast little beauty with the salty meat doing all the work but as I am becoming something of a show off in the kitchen there are two different types of glaze I am desperate to introduce to a ham and serve up to willing participants.

The first is a Nigella special - a ginger-ale glazed ham. I think my favourite thing about this recipe is how much Ginger Ale is required, the ridiculous volume of 7 litres of dry ginger ale just makes me giggle a little bit. There's something about using that much fizzy drink in something that feels daring and fun.

Basically you launch your ham joint in a pot with your niagara of Ginger Ale and bring to the boil before lowering the heat and allowing to simmer away for 4 1/2 hours (yes, this is an all day affair!)

The next step is the glaze which is ideally done with ginger preserves but marmalade with ginger through it will work just as well. Into your ginger preserves should go 2 tablespoons of hot english mustard, 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cloves. Wheech all of that together in a bowl and when your ham is done with its ginger ale bath, whack it into a foil lined baking tray. Leave a little layer of flat on the top and then slather on your glaze. Throw it in a hot oven for 20 minutes and you're done.

My friend George and I are working on a version of this that involves coca-cola. I know that sounds revolting but actually reducing coca-cola with meat is quite an old fashioned American thing that used to happen a lot in the fifties. The reduced result is quite a sticky, sweet almost barbeque flavoured glaze. I will keep you posted in forthcoming diary entries on how our version turns out.

My second, and probably favourite ham glaze is maple and cider. Cook your ham however you please but for this glaze you need 4 tablespoons of maple syrup, 4 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard, 160ml of cider, a pinch of ground cloves and salt and pepper.
Another wheech round a bowl and then slap it on the ham. The key to this is to make sure you baste the ham regularly as it cooks.

I was pretty pleased about how everything turned out on Friday but I think the stars of the show were my melt roast potatoes, maple and orange baked carrots and homemade sage & onion bread rolls.

This was the first time I have ever made my own bread and I am now wondering why I ever bothered buying it! It was so easy and tasted amazing. Admittedly, I am still a total amateur so I don't have a loaf tin so it's just rolls I can manage at the moment. But when I get my hands on one, watch out Warbutons!

The Melt Roast potatoes must be enjoyed by everyone. Seriously, once you have made them like this you will never go back.

Maris Pipers work really well for this but any spud that scores pretty high on the waxy/floury scale will do. You can peel them if you like but so long as they are washed I don't tend to bother, I like the skin. Cut the little blighters in half, length ways, which actually results in something a bit like a wedge but that's ok.

Melt three large tablespoons of butter into a shallow roasting tray and then add a slug of olive oil. Once your butter is melted lay your potatoes into the tray, do this so there is only one layer of tatties. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Your oven needs to be crazy hot - preheat at 220 - and then you play a strategic game of roast, flip, add and roast again.

1. Once they are in, roast for 15 minutes, then remove and flip them round.
2. Roast for a further 10 minutes, remove and flip again. This time, before you put them back in, add two cups of chicken stock.
3. Roast for 15 minutes, remove and then add a little bit more melted butter (about another tablespoons diet allowed when these are around).
4. Roast for a further five minutes and then they should be ready to serve.

The thing about these guys is their flavour. Crisp on the outside, fluffy and melting on the inside, they have soaked up the stock and butter and taste fantastic.

So those were the highlights of my first Christmas dinner hosted outside of the nest and I think it was a success.

Thanks to Frodo for keeping me under control when it comes to my suspect ability to judge timings and for taking charge of the Broccoli and Cauliflower Cheese bake (super simple recipe for this, Tweet me @LucilleBurn if you fancy it).

As money is tight, an across the board issue I think, Festive gifts this year will be homemade and tasty. This week is dedicated to creating treats in the kitchen.

Including but not limited to chilli jam and spiced brandy peaches that will go really well with that left over ham we've been talking about.

One task I have set myself that I am really excited about is beer caramel, required for one particular homemade sweet. A tricky and dangerous experiment, not least because for each time I mess it up I will have wasted a six pack of beer. Not going to happen!

Will keep you posted.


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