Mrs. Jackson Cooks

Life through food

Preparing for Christmas

on December 22, 2010

This year is the first year I’m cooking christmas day.  Normally we go to either my family’s or my husband’s.   This year we’re done with the family drama and are escaping to a cottage in Scotland with friends.  Which is quite exciting, from a cooking point of view anyway.  I get to make Christmas dinner.  As well as exciting, it’s also terrifying because people have so many memories associated with Christmas, me included, that it’s hard to keep everyone happy and not screw up! But I won’t be on my own, I’m expecting everyone to muck in, and I’ll just do what I’m good at – delegating aka bossing everyone about!

Anyway, partly because Christmas things tend to need to be made in advance and partly because we only go to Scotland on Christmas eve, so there’s not much time to prepare, I’ve been cooking for Christmas.  And it’s been pretty fun, mostly, but I’m exhausted now!  I put on the obligatory Christmas cd that everyone seems to have stashed somewhere.  That started off as quite a novelty but about half way through I’d had enough of it!  There’s only so many Christmas songs any one person can take in one go.  And partly because I’ve done most of my gift shopping online, I’ve not been into many shops to notice the music that usually annoyingly plays all day in shops from about mid-November!

I started with the ham, which I roasted, and then glazed in honey and mustard – thanks to the Hairy Bikers – their Christmas recipe book (12 days of christmas – found on amazon here) has been invaluable already and prevented full blown panic from setting in!  It also helped me with my grocery shopping list, and so I didn’t end up buying all sorts of un-needed things in panic!

Then, whilst that was in the oven, I prepped the apple and mincemeat Jalousie’s (from Delia’s pudding cook book) that I’ve already blogged about here. I’ve made a couple more, one of which I cooked and the other I froze for Scotland.   This time, though I also added in some dried cranberries, because I had some that I thought would be good in here, and I had the orange this time. I also used some lovely fresh mincemeat that was made by my mother-in-law.  She gave me such a lovely big jar of it, that I had some leftover after the Jalousies.

And as it doesn’t have suet in it, it won’t keep, so I then made my first, and probably only, batch of mince pies!  I always thought they were difficult, but really, if you use ready made pastry as I do, and you already have the mince meat, there’s really nothing to it!   I also thought you needed pastry cutters for them, but I just used a jam jar and a glass – making sure one was bigger than the other.  I just used my cupcake/yorkshire pudding tin.   I’m quite proud of them actually, despite not making the pastry or mincemeat!  They taste delicious.  And the reason I use ready made pastry is, it’s a lot lighter than stuff that is homemade.  Often mince pies are quite heavy with pastry and get stuck in your teeth.  These were so light and deliciously flakey without being puff pastry-like.

The mince pies were ready for the oven at the same time the ham needed to come out, so that was perfect timing, and I then studded and glazed the ham before returning it to the oven, and removing the mince pies.  I then set about putting marzipan on the Christmas cakes I made back in October, which were my first ever blog on here – which you can find here, another Delia favourite.  No, I didn’t make the marzipan.  In all honesty, I couldn’t be bothered.  The Hairy Bikers do have a recipe, but it just seemed like a lot of effort, especially as I tend to pick off the icing and marzipan from the cake when I eat it!  It’s more for show, and for others to eat!  I’ll ice it in a couple of days when the marzipan’s dried out.

At this point I was flagging so I sat down with a cup of tea and one of my freshly made mince pies and had a breather.  It was worth it for the mince pie alone!

I had reserved the juice that came out the ham and accidentally cut off some of the fat when removing the rind (having never done it before and not being sure what was rind and what was fat!), so as suggested by the Hairy Bikers, for the stock remains after boiling the ham (which I didn’t do), I chopped up the veges for the stock, threw in some water with the ham juices, rind and fat, added the herbs and spices, and boiled for soup.  At the end I added some peas, and took a couple of slices off the finished ham to add to the soup  – and voila, pea and ham soup!  In the photo it looks yellow in colour, but actually its much greener – more of a greeny yellowy colour.

When the ham came out the oven I threw in the Jalousie, and set about the final bit of prep for today.  I made Christmas spiced vodka.  Well I started it.  I mixed up the fruit, spices and vodka and have stuck it in the fridge to absorb the flavours.  I’ll seive it and bottle it just before we head up to Scotland.  Another lovely Hairy Biker recipe (well I hope it’s lovely – I haven’t tried it yet!).

After this, I was well and truly exhausted, so I dished up some of the soup and ate that for tea.  Just lovely.  So, here are all the recipes, as I made them.  You know where they all originate from, but I think, bar the vodka (and the marzipan, which was shop bought!) I’ve adapted them all!

Mustard and honey glazed ham

Serves about 10 (according to the hairy bikers – I think it could easily serve more, especially as you’ll be eating Turkey too)

1.5-3kg De-boned, rolled piece of gammon (I used smoked because my mother-in-law gave it to me, but if you’re not a fan of salted things, go for unsmoked)

about 20-30 whole cloves

3 tbsp English mustard

3 tbsp runny honey

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees celsius (or a bit higher if it’s not a fan oven).  Wrap the gammon, as it is, in tin foil and place on a baking tray.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes per 500g.
  2. When the gammon has cooked for the right amount of time, remove from the oven and turn up the heat to 200 degrees celsius.   Unwrap but keep the foil under it.  Strain off any juices into a large saucepan if making the soup.  Slide a sharp knife under the rind and remove (without removing the fat).  Stick in the saucepan with the juices.  Score the fat all over in diamond shapes and stick a clove in the centre of each diamond.
  3. In a small bowl mix the honey and mustard until smooth and even in consistency and then generously brush over the fat on the ham, and down both sides.   Pinch together the corners of the  foil to form a basket/boat around the ham.  Put the ham back in the oven for 10 minutes.
  4. After 10 minutes, remove from the oven, brush again with the remaining glaze and return to the oven, but turn the ham around so the other side is facing the back of the oven, for a further 10-15 minutes, until the ham is golden.   If bits start to burn cover with tin foil.
  5. Remove from the oven.  Leave to rest for 15 minutes if serving warm, or leave to cool completely before putting in the fridge if keeping for later.
  6. Marvel at your wondrous culinary skills and admire your mother for all her hard work to make Christmas special.

Ham and Pea soup

Serves 4-6 (ish)

Reserved ham juices and rind

2 small onions chopped in half (or one large onion quartered)

2 carrots chopped into short lengths

2 celery sticks chopped into short lengths

4 bay leaves

small handful of black peppercorns

small handful of cloves

700ml – 1 litre boiling water (or chicken/vegetable stock)

150g frozen peas, defrosted

Cooked ham shredded

Tbsp creme fraiche

  1. Add the vegetables, herbs and spices to a large saucepan with the rind and ham juices.  Add the boiling water or stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer, covered for about 30 minutes.
  2. Add the peas and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Once the vegetables are properly cooked, pour into a food processor or use a hand blender to blend the soup.
  4. Return to the saucepan, add the ham and the creme fraiche and heat through.  Taste for seasoning (its unlikely you’ll need salt, especially if you’re using smoked gammon, but I did add a chicken stock cube at this point as the base flavour was a bit weak).
  5. Serve with warm crusty bread and eat immediately to feel satisfyingly warm and full.

Cheat’s mince pies

makes about 15

500g ready-made shortcrust pastry, warmed to room temperature

350g good quality, ready-made mincemeat

zest of an orange

(some extra sultanas, if you’ve not got quite enough mincemeat)

splash of brandy or rum (to go with the sultanas, or leave out if you have enough mincemeat)

butter for greasing

1 egg white

icing sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.  Grease the cupcake tin with butter.
  2. Place the mincemeat, orange zest, sultanas and brandy (if using) in a bowl and mix.
  3. Flour your surface and rolling pin and roll out your pastry until its about as thin as a 50pence piece.   Take your pastry cutters, jam jars or glasses (you want 2 sizes, one slightly bigger than the cupcake dents in your tin and one slightly smaller.  Cut out 15 of the larger size.  if you run out of pastry, gather up the bits, re-roll and then cut.
  4. Place each of the pastry circles in a cupcake dent.   Place about 1tbsp of the mincemeat mixture in each pastry dent.  You don’t want them too full.
  5. Then gather up the pastry, re-roll and cut out 15 of the smaller circles.  Place on top of the pastry and mincemeat in the cupcake tin.   Again, re-roll your pastry if needed.
  6. Brush the pastry tops with egg white, make a hole for the steam to escape in each mince pie.
  7. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, or until cooked and golden.  Remove from the oven.  Leave to cool slightly before turning onto a wire rack.  If serving hot, dust with icing sugar, or wait til cold if serving cold.
  8. Serve with a lovely cup of tea or glass of mulled wine to feel all festive.

Christmas spiced vodka

Makes about 500ml.

300g mixed dried fruit

75g caster sugar

zest of an orange

zest of a lemon

2 cinnamon sticks

6 cloves

2 tsp mixed spice

half a nutmeg, grated

750ml good quality vodka

  1. Mix the fruit, zests, sugar and spices in a large bowl.   Add the vodka.  Stir well, then cover tightly with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 3 days.
  2. After the 3 days, remove the clingfilm, line a seive with 2 layers of muslin and place over a large jug.  Pour the mixture into the muslin and allow to drip through.
  3. Once its collected in the jug, pour into bottles and seal tightly.  Store in the freezer until needed.
  4. Serve straight from the freezer in shots.  But do remind everyone its pure vodka or you could have granny passing out in the Turkey!

Photos of the jalousies and the marzipaned cake.

I shall now go and collapse into bed before doing it all again tomorrow!  Next up will be baking – cookies, cakes etc.

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