Mrs. Jackson Cooks

Life through food

Christmas eve dinner party: Crispy duck with plum sauce

I did a dinner party for Christmas eve for my friends who were staying for a few days.  I was actually more excited about doing this than Christmas day because it was something different and Christmas day is really just an elaborate roast dinner.  Probably why I wasn’t so focused on it and it definitely could have been better!

But the dinner party was delicious.  I did the mussels in white wine sauce for starter, crispy duck in a plum sauce for mains and tarte tatin for dessert.  The starters and dessert I’ve already blogged about and you can find them here:

I made the mussels without fries this time  as they were a starter and served with pittas (as that’s all I had!) but a french baguette would be nicer I think!  I think the three courses worked really well together despite being inspired by different continents – because it was very much a fusion menu.  And it seemed very luxurious without being too much to eat.  The tarte tatin was beautifully caramelised and perfect after the rich and sweet duck.  And everyone just loved the mussels.  They were a perfect light and not too filling starter.  I did 1.5kg between 4 of us.

The duck was just delicious, if a little undercooked!  I did it for the stated time but because our duck breasts were very thick they needed an extra 3-4 minutes and they were still very pink. They were also quite large so I did half a breast per person and served with creamed cabbage.   Normally I’m not a huge fan of cabbage and neither was anyone else at the table but one arrived in my Christmas vege box and there were loads of recipes suggesting it with duck so I thought I’d give it a go.  And actually everyone loved the cabbage – creaming it with creme fraiche gives it a totally different flavour and texture which was very tasty.

The duck recipe came from here

And the cabbage from here:

I didn’t serve with any carbs as it was a three course meal and I thought we were probably already eating enough.  But you could easily add some mash or some haselback (hedgehog) potatoes.  Or even just some steamed baby potatoes.

Crispy duck with plum sauce and creamed cabbage

Serves 5-6

  • 6 small duck breats, or 3 large ones with skin on
  • 4 tbsp Groundnut, sesame, or sunflower oil

For the marinade:

  • 10cm piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 tbsp shaoshing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 4 tbsp schechuan peppercorns, ground
  • 9 star anise
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • For the sauce:
  • 5 plums, quartered and stones removed
  • 100g dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 5 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • juice of 2 limes

For the cabbage:

  • 1 savoy cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • knob of butter
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche (you can used reduced fat)
  1. First, put all the marinade ingredients in a shallow dish, mix well to combine.  Add the duck breasts spooning over the marinade so all sides are covered.  Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinade for about 25 minutes.
  2. Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce.  Put the plums, apricots and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  4. Add the sugar, honey, cinnamon and star anise.  Cook on a medium simmering heat until its reduced to a sticky sauce.
  5. Whilst the sauce is reducing, make the cabbage.
  6. Blanche the cabbag and carrot for a couple of minutes (ie boil for a short period of time) and drain.
  7. Heat the butter in a pan.  When it’s melted and bubbling, add the cabbage and carrot and stir fry for a few minutes.
  8. Add the creme fraiche and season to taste.  Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes to reduce.  Keep warm.
  9. Your duck should now be marinaded.  So heat the oil in a wok or frying pan until its smoking hot.
  10. Place the duck skin side down in the oil and cook for about 4-5 minutes on a very high heat until the skin is crispy and burnt.
  11. Turn the duck into a baking dish or pan skin side up and put in the oven for about 4 minutes (this will do small breast pink) to 6 minutes (more well done) or about 9 minutes (pink) to 11 minutes (well done) for large breasts.  (When they come out, it’s the perfect time to shove in the tarte tatin!)
  12. Serve with a cabbage bed on the bottom, the duck on top, skin side up and topped with the plum sauce
  13. Enjoy with a nice bottle of red wine 🙂
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Emerging from Christmas: leftovers filo pie

Hello!  We made it to the other side of Christmas in one piece!  And actually, it was pretty good.  Getting drunk on christmas eve wasn’t the best plan, I’ve never been so hungover on Christmas day!  And it meant everything was a bit delayed and I wasn’t on the ball in making sure the capon didn’t go dry.  But all in all, pretty good.

I did the same lunch as I did last year – you can find it here if you want

The pudding was a complete success – everyone loved it and it was very fruity and delicious and not as dense as some can be.  The recipe for that, is here

But after you’ve cooked all that, fed everyone until they can’t eat anymore, you still have an insane amount of leftovers.  So what to do?  Well it’s traditional to make a pie.  But as you know, I’m hopeless with shortcrust pastry (unless its an upside down tarte!) so I thought I’d try filo, especially as I’d already made a few filo things and they turned out well and it’s a much lighter pastry.  After the Christmas excess the last thing you want is heavy stodgy pastry.

I found this recipe here, which seemed perfect and very easy

I more or less followed it, but I didn’t have any gravy left so I just used chicken stock and I added extra vegetables.  I used carrot and celery, but mushrooms, peppers, brocolli would also be nice in it – whatever you have in the fridge.   I also left out the leek as I didn’t have one.

You could also put bacon in it, or substitute it for the ham – depending on what leftovers you’ve got.

Chicken and ham leftovers pie

Serves 4 ish

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, cooked ham (or whatever you’ve got)
  • 400g chopped, cooked chicken (or turkey)
  • 300ml leftover gravy or chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • handful of chopped fresh thyme (or about 1tbsp dried thyme)
  • 2 tbsp thick double cream
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 (ish) sheets filo pastry
  • 25g butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.
  2. Heat the oil in a high sided frying pan or saucepan.  Gently saute the onion, carrot and celery until softened.
  3. Add in the ham and chicken pieces and fry for a further few minutes.
  4. Stir in the gravy or stock.  Sprinkle over the flour.  Stir well to mix and bring to the boil.
  5. Reduce to a simmer and add the cream and thyme.  Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.  Add extra water if the sauce is too thick.
  7. Chop the filo pastry into strips.
  8. Pour the pie mixture into a casserole dish or oven proof baking dish.
  9. Brush the strips with melted butter and scrunch up.  Place all over the pie mix until covered.
  10. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until crispy and golden on top.
  11. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
  12. Enjoy a lighter version of a pie 🙂
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A winter vege delight: sweet potato and goat’s cheese tortilla

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I’ve been feeling “meated” out recently and have been going vege (and fish as well) in an attempt to get my dietary balance back. I was looking for vege options on a website, and came across this recipe. The one they use they suggest it’s a vege centrepiece at Christmas, but I adapted it somewhat so it’s less rich and quicker to cook and is better for a midweek option.

It doesn’t take long to do at all. You just whack the veges in the oven, leave them for 30 minutes (I had a shower whilst they were doing) and then come back and finish off the tortilla which takes about 5-10 minutes tops. So it’s a very good midweek healthier option, or just something different for you veges out there. It’s delicious too and very easy to eat – so good if you’re feeling a little over indulged or coming down with something.

The original recipe is here, and I’ve no doubt will be wonderful for veges at Christmas

Sweet potato and goat’s cheese tortilla

Serves 2-4 (depending on what you serve with it and if it’s a main course)

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 2 peppers of different colours, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-5 mushrooms, sliced
  • handful of basil leaves, chopped or torn (or use spinach as the recipe suggests)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 50g soft goats cheese, chopped
  • 20g parmesan cheese, grated
  1. Preheat the oven to 230 degrees celsius.
  2. Put the potato and veges in a large roasting tray. Drizzle over half the olive oil and season well. Stick in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until roasted through.
  3. Remove from the oven and set aside. Preheat the grill on high.
  4. Whisk the eggs, creme fraiche and goats cheese together with plenty of pepper
  5. Heat the remaining oil in a large shallow frying pan.
  6. Fry the mushrooms in the oil until their juices run and they turn brown.
  7. Add the roasted veges to the mushrooms and mix well to ensure the potatoes get on the bottom and the mushrooms are on top – and mixed into the rest of the vege. Make sure the vege cover the whole of the bottom of the pan.
  8. Sprinkle over the basil.
  9. then tip the egg mix all over and spread around evenly.
  10. Cook until the bottom is done and the top has started to set.
  11. Sprinkle over the parmesan and put under the grill until the top is cooked and the cheese browned.
  12. Serve immediately, on it’s own, or with vege on the side.
  13. Enjoy!
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Preparing for Christmas – a fruity Christmas pudding

Can you believe it – its that time of year again, when thoughts turn to Christmas preparations.  Admittedly, the ones that you have to do in advance – it’s not like I’m ordering a turkey from the butchers yet or anything!  But my first post on this blog, nearly a year ago, was for Christmas cake.  I made it a bit later last year – getting it all done well ahead of time this year!

I’m thinking, after the success of last year’s Christmas, that I would cook Christmas dinner in my home today – and will have whoever wants to come, over.  That way we avoid the ‘which parents are we seeing this year’ issue.  They can both come to us.  Or not.  I don’t mind!  So, I thought, I’d be brave and make my own pudding this year.

And that’s where the trouble started.  My first stop for a recipe was Delia – you can’t really go wrong with her, and Christmas is not a time for experimentation!  You could end up ruining people’s Christmasses that way – mine especially, and Christmas is stressful enough without a pudding disaster!   And then I thought I’d just see what BBC good food had to offer.  And they had a very highly reader recommended fruity pudding that was less rich and dense than trad puds – which given the amount you eat at Christmas, I thought might not be a bad thing.

And then I remembered I had the Hairy Biker’s Christmas book.  Theirs looked good too.  So which one?  I nearly went for Delias – to be safe.  But then I read I had to soak the fruit overnight and I didn’t have time for that.  The Hairy Bikers recipe didn’t require soaking but looked a little light on the booze.   And the fruity one seemed the most interesting – although did require overnight soaking too.  After consultation with my mum, who’s been making her own puds for years (she does them a year in advance), I decided not to soak the fruit, but basically go with the fruity one.  But – and here is where I am worried I may have gone wrong – I adapted the recipe slightly along the lines of the Hairy Bikers.  Partly because I liked the idea of putting Guinness in a pudding, and partly because I wanted to reduce the quantities to fit in my pudding basin and the Hairy Biker quantities were nearer that.

I madea mini one I made with the small amount of leftover mix, which I tasted – just to make sure I’m not poisoning people, mind! – and it was delicious and will improve with age, so I’m quite happy with my muddled recipe!

As I write this now, the smell of the Christmas cakes baking in the oven is filling the house.  They’re nearly done.  That was a Delia recipe.  I’ve used it every year for 3 years , and I can’t fault it.  To find that, click here, for my first ever post.  I spent 3 hours earlier today mixing them all (there’s 3) and they’ve now done nearly 4 hours in the oven, probably just another 30-45 minutes to go.  And then they get put away and fed brandy every few weeks.

But back to puddings.  I bought myself a pudding basin, having never made a steamed pudding before.  It all seemed very complicated.  But actually, its simpler than you think.  I got a 1.2 litre ceramic pudding basin from John Lewis for £6.  Which I didn’t think was bad.  This size is a good medium sized pudding – will serve about 8-10 I think, depending on the size of slice you serve.  When the pudding’s not in it (and it will be now, until Christmas) it’s a good size for a mixing bowl.  Because I didn’t have a very large saucepan for steaming, I steamed it in the oven, which couldn’t have been simpler.

You just fill a baking pan (I used a deep sided one) with water.  Sit the pudding bowl in the middle of it.  Ten the pan with tin foil, and steam in the lower part of the oven for the same amount of time you’d do it on the hob. I found I didn’t even need to top up with water – although I did check on it, just in case.  It also leaves your hob free so you can cook dinner (or whatever).

Here’s the original recipe that I mostly followed

Here is the hairy biker version that I used bits from

And here’s my version:

Fruity Christmas pudding

Serves 8 (ish)

  • 125g each sultanas, raisins, and currants – find the biggest juiciest ones possible.  My mum swears by Australian or Chilean ones (I just went with Asda ones, to be honest!).
  • 100g whole glace cherries
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 50g chopped dried figs (ready to eat ones, not ones you have to soak).
  • 50g whole blanched almonds
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 medium carrot, finely grated
  • 150ml brandy
  • 50ml orange liquer (or more brandy if you don’t have it (or in my case -thought it too expensive for cooking with))
  • 125g white breadcrumbs (made with cheapest rubbishest oldest white bread you can find.  Chop off crusts and stick in blender or crumb with fingers)
  • 120ml Guinness or other stout.
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 1/2 mixed spice
  • 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • 125g butter, frozen and grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • butter for greasing
  1. Put all the fruit, peels, zests, carrot, nuts, in a very large mixing bowl (the largest you have – I use a large salad bowl) and pour over the brandy and liquer (if using).  Stir well and then cover and leave for as long as possible.  I left it for about 90 minutes, whilst I made lunch and other things.
  2. Mix the breadcrumbs with the Guinness and leave to one side, whilst you weigh out everything else.
  3. Combine the flour, sugar, spices together with the breadcrumbs and then add these to the fruit.  Mix well.
  4. Then grate in the butter and add the eggs.
  5. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Grease the pudding basin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper.
  7. Really pack the mixture into the pudding basin, getting rid of any air (I did this by tapping it on the surface and frequent intervals).
  8. Top it with some greaseproof paper.  Followed by a double round of greaseproof paper and then some tin foil.  Secure all of this with string under the bowl lip.
  9. Either steam in a large saucepan on an upturned saucer with water covering 1/3 of the basin (and cover the saucepan) or in the oven with the method above for 6 hours.
  10. When the time is up, remove the puddings.  Take off the foil and grease proof papers (leaving the bottom one) and allow to cool.  Then replace with fresh greaseproof papers and string and store in a cool, dark, dry place until christmas, feeding it with brandy at regular intervals (I think, I’m going to do about 2-3 week intervals).
  11. At Christmas, steam in the same way for 2 hours.  Remove, put a serving plate on top of the pudding, and tip it onto it.  Pour over brandy and set alight.  Serve with brandy cream, brandy sauce or orange custard cream as the BBC good food one suggests (or whatever you want!).
  12. Have a very happy Christmas!
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Filo apple and blueberry strudel

This is another recipe to use up the contents of my mother in laws fridge.  She had filo pastry and a load of cooking apples.  So this seemed obvious!  I added the blueberries and almonds to make it more interesting.  And it seemed to  go down very well.  I used very little sugar in this, and as it’s filo pastry – this is actually fairly low in calories for a dessert.

According to the calorie recipe wizard – it’s 161 calories per slice, which for a dessert is nothing really.  You can quite happily have a slice and not feel guilty.  Of course if you add icecream or clotted cream to it, that’s going to up the calories quite considerably.  But you could go for a frozen or normal yoghurt instead or custard to reduce the calories, or just eat plain.

You can also freeze this.  Just make the strudel and freeze before cooking.  Defrost and bake as normal making sure you add the cinnamon on top before putting it in the oven.  And because of this, it makes an easy dinner party or family dinner dessert as it can be done ahead of time and defrosted when needed.

It’s also super simple to make.  I was expecting the whole thing to be harder than it was really.  I got the recipe from here and except for adding the blueberries and almonds, I kept to the recipe (mostly because it’s so simple, it’s hard to do anything else!).

I also made an apple and cherry pie with normal shortcrust pastry (all from her fridge!) but I’m not great with shortcrust pastry and whilst it tasted nice, it could have been better so I shall wait to post about that until I perfect a pie!

Filo apple and blueberry strudel

Serves 8

  • 1 packet of filo pastry (5-6 sheets)
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 500g apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 100g blueberries
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g demerara sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Mix together the apples, blueberries, almonds, 1 tsp cinnamon and sugar.  Set aside.
  2. Using a clean tea towel, lay 1 sheet of filo pastry on top of it.  brush with melted butter.  Lay the next sheet on top and repeat.  Repeat until you’ve layered all the sheets.
  3. Place the apple filling in the top third of the pastry (if looking at it wide side on), leaving about 5cm edge at top.
  4. Using the tea towel, fold the top edge over the filling.  Follow this by folding up the bottom part of the pastry over the filling to join the other side of the pastry.  Try to do this as tight as possible.
  5. Carefully place on a buttered baking tray, seam side down.
  6. Brush the remaining butter over the top of the strudel and sprinkle over some more cinnamon.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Remove, slice and serve with custard, ice cream or cream.  It’s also good cold.
  8. Enjoy 🙂
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When Christmas just won’t leave: Pannetone eggy bread or french toast

In my family, it has always been eggy bread. It’s something of a tradition. Every now and then, my dad, who usually can’t cook for toffee, would make us eggy bread for breakfast. And it was always something of an occasion and a treat. He didn’t do it with pannetone, I’m not sure my parents know what pannetone is! He just made it with your bog standard white bread that was probably a bit stale and about to go mouldy! And you can still make eggy bread like that.

But this is with a pannetone, simply because we still have some hanging around after Christmas. And I couldn’t be bothered with the palaver of a fry up or hash browns and so on, so I decided to do eggy bread.

The first time I came across french toast was in Nepal. We were on a girl guide’s weekend camping trip somewhere in the hills outside Kathmandu (yes, I grew up in Nepal, for those of you who think that’s an odd sentence!) and we had breakfast at a local lodge, which was french toast. Turned out it had weevils added to it – don’t think they’re normally in French toast – but hey, it was extra protein. Be reassured though, I do not, ever put weevils, or any other small bugs, in my eggy bread.

I don’t think eggy bread is French. I think it’s probably an American term, much like French fries are. Maybe they think it sounds more exotic if they call it ‘French’! As everyone knows the French don’t really eat breakfast. They just have a shot of coffee and maybe a nibble of a croissant. Anyway, being English, I don’t consider France that exotic so we’ll carry on with eggy bread.

I had a look for some recipes online (not because I don’t know how to make it, I was just wondering if there were some interesting ways of doing it out there). Most consisted of ones made from about 8 eggs and lashings of cream or just plain ones. Now, I know that its a pannetone, but really, its Janaury, there is no need for so many eggs and cream. And I can manage a recipe that’s bog standard without anything added. In the end, I found this one and it was just perfect.

Despite having just said it was perfect, it’s not really. It’s just more what I was looking for. I decided Cointreau for brunch in January was a bit much! And I also thought they over did it a bit on the amount of liquid to bread and the amount of sugar – so I reduced both.

Pannetone eggy bread

Serves 2

  • 200-250g pannetone (of any kind), sliced lengthways and then cut in half.
  • 1 large egg
  • 70ml milk
  • 30ml orange juice
  • zest of half a lemon or orange (I used lemon as I didn’t have an orange)
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or about 2 tsp ground nutmeg)
  • 50g (ish) butter or margerine
  1. Combine all the ingredients, apart from the pannetone in a large-ish flat-ish dish. Whisk well to mix.
  2. Heat a blob of the butter in a frying pan on a medium heat (you don’t want it too hot or the eggy bread will burn) and when it’s melted and bubbling very quickly dip a slice of the pannetone in the mixture on each side so it’s coated and drop in the pan – don’t leave it too long otherwise the pannetone will just fall apart.
  3. Repeat until the pan is nicely full, but not over crowded.
  4. Cook on both sides until golden brown. Remove from the pan and place on some kitchen towel.
  5. Add more butter and cook the remaining pieces until all the pannetone and mixture are used up.
  6. Serve with honey, maple syrup, marmalade, jam – or just on it’s own. My favourite was plain and marmalade.
  7. Enjoy with a steaming mug of freshly brewed tea and the paper.
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What to do with leftover Panettone? Bread and butter pudding, of course!

If you’re wondering what to do with the leftover pannetone before it goes mouldy and you’re absolutely sick of eating things with dried fruit in them like christmas cake and mince pies, then, this is the perfect recipe for the pannetone.  We had a chocolate one which we were given and I think we were chocolated out by the boxes of chocolate biscuits and quality street we had already eaten!  The idea of chocolate pannetone just didn’t appeal.

However, I was not taking it back home again from Scotland to be faced with eating it, especially as I’m now trying to lose the weight I put on from all the eating over Christmas!  So something had to be done.  So I had the idea of bread and butter pudding.  It’s just such a great pudding and I rarely get to eat it as I can’t eat bread.  And it’s super simple to make and handily used up what was left in the fridge that we couldn’t cram in the pasta bake!  A perfect ending to the last meal we had – of leftovers!  What’s more like leftovers than bread and butter pudding?!  Apart from bubble and squeak that is.

I got the recipe from waitrose online.  I had found another recipe, but it used 8 eggs and we didn’t have that many and we weren’t going to buy any more food so I looked for one with fewer eggs and waitrose did the trick.  You can find the original recipe here:

You don’t have to use chocolate pannetone like we did, but you can.  In fact, any pannetone of any kind at all will do fine.  I also added blanched flaked almonds and dried mixed fruit to ours, which was delicious.   You could add any other fruit or nuts that you like to this, fresh or otherwise.  Hazlenuts would be nice too, as would dried cranberries or apricots or just raisins. If using a traditional pannetone you could add chocolate drops instead of the fruit.

We served it with brandy cream which went really well with it and used up the remainder of the cream, the one remaining satsuma and the brandy.  Perfect.  But it would taste just as good with custard, brandy sauce, or icecream.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo, but it did look as good as it tasted.  But you’ll have to take my word for it!  It didn’t, however, look like the waitrose photo!

Chocolate pannetone bread and butter pudding with brandy cream

Serves 6 (with a bit leftover for the midnight munchies)

1 large pannetone, sliced as flatly as possible.

3 eggs, beaten

200ml milk (we used semi-skimmed not whole as the recipe suggests)

100ml double cream (I added more cream than the recipe suggests to compensate for the semi-skimmed milk)

2 tbsp sugar (I used less sugar with it being a chocolate pannetone and already very sweet)

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

100g dried mixed fruit (or any other dried fruit)

50g blanched flaked almonds (or other nuts)

for the brandy cream:

300ml double cream

2-3 tbsp brandy (depending on how strong you like it)

zest of 1 orange (or satsuma, or clementine)

50g caster sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.   Grease a baking dish with butter.
  2. Layer the sliced pannetone in the dish, overlapping well.  Sprinkle over the dried fruit and nuts, getting them into any corners and nooks and crannies.
  3. Add the milk, cream, sugar and nutmeg to the beaten eggs and beat well to combine.
  4. Pour the mixture over the pannetone, taking care at the edges, make sure you don’t leave bits dry.  I used a spoon on the tricky edges and corners.  Leave for at least 15 minutes, for the pannetone to soak up the sauce and go all sqidgy.
  5. Place in the oven for about 25-30 minutes to bake, until it’s cooked and golden on top.
  6. Meanwhile make the brandy cream.  Put the cream in a large bowl with the brandy, zest and sugar.  Whisk hard until the cream is stiff and forms peaks when you remove the whisk.  Whilsts it’s definitely easier with an electric whisk, I used a hand one and it only took me 5 minutes at most, so it’s totally doable without one.  Taste for more brandy or sugar, add if needed and mix well.  The place in the fridge until needed.
  7. Serve the pudding with a dollop of brandy cream on top and relief that you’ve finally managed to do something with that pannetone!
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Fridge use-up pasta bake

Well the servers are down at work, on the first day back (excellent start to the new year), so I thought I’d take the opportunity to blog about our last meal in Scotland.  Well part of it anyway.  I must apologise for the ridiculously long combined posts – but we had limited internet so I made the most of what we had!  But I am now returning to normal and doing one (or maybe two) recipes per post again.

Anyway, as it typical of final meals anywhere – we had leftovers.  Whatever that was left in the fridge and cupboards we pretty much ate – except for chickpeas and apricots.  Just couldn’t fit them in anywhere sensible.  But we were determined not to go home with loads of food.  We had fridge-use up pasta bake with spicy wedges and salad, followed by chocolate panetone bread and butter pudding with brandy and orange cream.  Which will be my next post, and to be honest, was delicious and probably the best thing that could be done with the panetone.

Anyway, back to the pasta bake.  We put in chipolata sausages, broccoli, carrots, onions, peppers, tomatoes, cream, cheese and breadcrumbs.  And it was lovely.  I think we also threw in some garlic and chilli too, oh and the remains of the fresh sage.  And the left over cooked vege from the venison roast. And pasta, of course!

But really, you can take the principle and make your own use-up pasta bake with whatever is in the fridge.  You can make a creamy sauce with cream and cheese, or creme fraiche, or cream cheese.  A tomatoey sauce with fresh or canned tomatoes, or passata, or tomato paste mixed with stock.  Or if you’re really stuck, make a lemony sauce with olive oil, cheese (preferably a hard one like parmesan), lemon juice and lemon zest.    Or any combination of these.  And if there’s not enough sauce just make some stock with a stock cube, or with marmite if you’re really stuck!

And the rest is just veges and whatever meat you’ve got left over.  I could have made this with the ham instead (except I’d already put that in some fried rice I made the day before – another excellent use up option!).  Or leftover chicken, or turkey or whatever really.  And if there’s no meat, then just leave it out and have it with veges instead.  You might add nuts too – walnuts, chestnuts, cashews, hazlenuts…whatever you’ve got lying around from Christmas.

I’ll also do another blog on the wedges as they are just fab and so simple to make.

Sausage and brocolli creamy pasta bake

Serves 6ish

12 small chipolata sausages (or 6 normal sized ones, you can use any type of sausage)

450g pasta shapes (we used 500g because that was what was in the packet)

1 tbsp oil (we used olive)

2 medium onions

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp chilli flakes (can be left out if you want)

2 carrots, diced – (this vege can be replaced with whatever you’ve got – celery, spinach, greens, corgettes, etc)

2 peppers, chopped smallish

a head of brocolli, cut into florets

pre-cooked vege leftovers

1 tin of tomatoes

2 fresh tomatoes, chopped

200ml (ish) double cream

handful of chopped fresh herbs (sage, parsley, thyme, or whatever you have, or use dried)

salt and pepper

100g (ish) cheddar cheese, grated (or any other similar cheese – lancashire, cheshire, devonshire, stilton, wensleydale – any leftover christmas cheese will do)

50g (ish) breadcrumbs (can be left out if you don’t have – but it makes the topping crunchy)

  1. Put the grill on high and grill the sausages until cooked and browned on all sides.  Don’t forget to prick them or they’ll explode and make a mess of the grill.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to about 180 degrees celsius.
  3. Put the pasta in a saucepan and boil according to the packet instructions.  When it’s cooked, remove from the heat, drain and set aside.  You may want to drizzle with oil to prevent it from sticking.
  4. Heat a large frying pan on a medium heat.  Fry the onion in the oil until softened but not browned.  Then add the garlic and chilli (if using) and fry for a further minute.
  5. Then add the veges and fry these until they soften, for about 5 minutes.  Whilst this is doing, chop up the cooked sausages into 1inch pieces.
  6. Next add in the canned tomatoes and the fresh ones, breaking any large ones down with the spatula or spoon.  When they get nice and jammy, add the cream and stir well to mix.  If there doessn’t seem to be enough sauce add more cream or add some stock, or some wine or stock – or whatever you have!
  7. Finally add the herbs and stir well again, to mix.
  8. Take a casserole dish or baking dish and put the cooked pasta in it.  Add the vegetable sauce and the sausages and mix well with the pasta to combine.
  9. Sprinkle the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs (if using) over the top and pop in the oven for about 25-30 minutes or until its hot through and the cheese is melted and golden.
  10. Serve with salad and wedges (if you like!) and eat with immense satisfaction in being thrifty and finding a use for everything.
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A Venison Epic

We thought as we were in Scotland that we’d get some venison, as it’s fresh and hung properly.  And although it wasn’t cheap, it was definitely worth it.  It was so delicious, not really strong or too gamey.  I would say it was a bit like lamb…but a bit richer perhaps.

Venison is a very lean meat, with very little fat, so it’s great if you’re watching the calories.  In fact, both the dishes we made with the venison are pretty healthy recipes.  Of course, if you’re watching the weight you wouldn’t roast your potatoes in goose fat like we did.  The recipe book with the roast venison actually suggests mashed potatoes, which are relatively  low in calories providing you use margarine and milk and not butter and cream in them.

I loved both these dishes.  They’re both completely different, but both were really delicious.    First we roasted a haunch of venison on the bone, after marinading it in spices and alcohol for 3 days, then with the leftover meat we made venison stew a couple of days later.  Because the meat was already marinated we left this part of the recipe out.  I picked this recipe because it didn’t have strong flavours of its own so the original marinade flavours would be retained and not confused.

The spices aren’t all the most obvious ones, and might take a bit to source them but most large good supermarkets should have them, or you can always turn to the internet.  They are definitely worth the effort to find.

We made the stew for new years eve – to line our stomachs and fill us up before our big night out.  And it was a totally epic night with all kinds of craziness, so the stew was very much needed.  We’d had enough of potatoes by this point so we had it with rice, but it would be nice with boiled potatoes or chunks of homemade bread, or even dumplings.

For the roast we, have, as has been our mainstay whilst in Scotland, the Hairy Bikers to thank and their 12 days of Christmas book.  This is a fantastic recipe, especially for a special roast meal.  And the chestnuts with bacon go with it so well.

For the stew recipe, I found this on a lovely blog by an English lady that’s gone to live in the US with her husband and raise various rare farm animals.  Most of the blog isn’t about food at all, but she said she always got rave compliments when she makes this stew so I decided to give it a go.  And she’s right, it is worth raving about, even though I didn’t use her marinade.  But the original marinade isn’t miles different from hers.  If you want the original recipe you can find it here

The recipes here are as I did them, although the roast venison is pretty much as the Hairy Bikers have it.

Roast venison on the bone

Serves 6 – 10 (depending on how hungry you are!)

2.75kg/6lb venison haunch on the bone (the bone gives it lots of lovely flavour)

4 tbsp oil (we used olive)

100g streaky bacon or pancetta cut into small pieces

150g roasted chestnuts, peeled

salt & pepper

handful of chopped fresh parsley

For the marinade:

10 juniper berries

10 black peppercorns

10 cardamom pods (I didn’t have these so put in some allspice berries instead)

2 star anise

1 medium red onion, sliced

250ml red wine

150ml gin

juice of 1 orange & 3 long strips of rind

4 sprigs of fresh thyme (we used dried)

2 bay leaves

For the gravy:

500ml beef stock

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp redcurrant jelly

Potatoes (as you like them) and roast vege to serve.

  1. Marinade the venison in all the spices and alcohol by taking all the spices and lightly grinding them in a pestle and mortar (we didn’t have one so I used the bottom of a wine bottle and a plastic bowl!).  Put them in a large flat dish to marinade and add the wine, gin, orange juice and rind, onion, thyme and bay leaves.  Mix well to combine.  Then add the venison, squish around to cover in the marinade, turn over, squish again, spoon over to get the sides, cover in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 2-3 days, turning 3-4 times so each side is evenly marinaded.
  2. When you’re ready to roast the venison, preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.  If having roast potatoes, stick these in now too so they’re nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
  3. Remove the venison from the marinade and reserve the marinade for the gravy.  Pat dry the venison.  Heat the oil in a large roasting pan on the hob and brown the venison on all sides.
  4. Then place in the oven (no need for tin foil) for 10 minutes per 500g.  Then add an extra 15 minutes for medium and 30 for well done.  We did ours medium rare, which was perfect and roasted it for 65 minutes.  Once it’s done, remove from the oven and put on a warmed serving dish.  Cover in tin foil and clean towels and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  5. Whist the venison is roasting, stick in your other roast vege (I just added these to the potatoes) and make stock for the gravy.
  6. Put the marinade in a pan with the stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer until it’s reduced to around 500ml.  Sieve it to remove the bits and set aside until you make the gravy.
  7. Next make the chestnut and bacon accompaniment.  Heat a frying pan and add the pancetta or bacon and fry until it starts to go crispy.  Then add the chestnuts and the parsley and some seasoning.  Stir well and remove from the heat.
  8. Finally, take the roasting tin and place on the hob.  Add the flour and mix well with the juices.  Gradually add the stock, stirring continually to avoid getting any lumps.  Then add the redcurrant jelly and simmer until the sauce is thickened and glossy.   Add more wine or stock if it becomes too thick.
  9. Serve, ask someone else to carve, put the chestnuts and bacon on top of the meat and cover it all in gravy.  This is genuinely the best way to eat it!  And sink into rapturous delight as everyone is silent, stuffing their faces!

Venison stew

Serves about 6-8 (ish)

The remainder of the venison meat, cut into smallish chunks.  I would say this was at least 600g of meat.

2 tbsp oil (we used olive)

1 onion chopped into chunks

5 carrots chopped into small chunks

2 peppers chopped into chunks (you can use any vege you like here, this is just what we used)

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 tbsp redcurrant jelly (or cranberry)

150 ml red wine

tin of chopped tomatoes plus a couple of fresh ones

Any leftover gravy from the roast

salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Add the meat and brown on all sides.
  2. Add the vege and fry until softened.
  3. Add the canned and fresh tomatoes, red wine and leftover gravy.
  4. Bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat, covered for at least 1 hour (go off and have a bath at this point, or paint your nails or something!).  The longer you leave it, the more tender it’ll be.
  5. Check on the stew occasionally and see if it needs more liquid.  If it does, add more wine or some beef stock.
  6. When its good and cooked, serve with rice or potatoes or dumplings or bread or any combination.
  7. Eat, feeling it’s probably the best stew you ever ate!
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Christmas cookie baking

I made these
cookies before christmas, but as they were devoured whilst drinking
red wine yesterday, I can testify to them being good several days
later. In fact, I think they tasted better a few days later
than on the day. These are both recipes from American blogs, both
are super simple to make, and extremely tasty. I’ll reproduce
the recipes here, simply because if you’re like me and using metric
not US cups, then it’s handy not to have to keep flicking back and
to conversion charts! The chocolate crinkle cookies are very
sweet and the dough was extremely sticky even after freezing for 3
hours, so I’d put in less sugar and more flour. I’ll
reproduce quantities as per the original recipe, but let you know
what I’ll change them to when I make them again. So you can
decide for yourself. Also, I made half quantities so I’ll put
the half quantity recipe – you can always just double it if you
want more cookies. My favourite to eat were the coconut macaroons,
these were really lovely and reminded me of sunshine, when its so
cold. But the chocolate crinkles are very pretty to look at.
So here’s the original macaroon recipe. I made it as it was,
I just used metric conversion. I don’t see any reason to
change this recipe, they are gorgeous. Maybe half a marachino
cherry on top – then they’d be a bit like bakewells!
And here are the chocolate crinkle cookies, which apparently is a
Martha Stewart recipe!
Coconut macaroons Makes
about 10 -12
100g dessicated coconut 75g light brown
sugar one large egg white 1/2 tsp vanilla essence pinch of salt 1/4
tsp nutmeg (I used fresh grated) marachino cherries cut in half

  1. Preheat the oven to about 180
    degrees celsius and line a baking tray with baking parchment (or
    grease with butter if you don’t have paper)
  2. Beat the egg white until it becomes white and fluffy and
    doubles in size. You don’t want it properly whisked, just the
  3. Then whisk in the sugar, vanilla,
    nutmeg and salt until thoroughly mixed.
  4. Next
    fold in the coconut until its just mixed.
  5. With
    wet hands form small balls, about 2cm in diameter and place on the
    baking tray – leave a good distance between them as they’ll spread
    as they cook.
  6. Press a cherry half into the top
    of them (if using)
  7. Bake in the middle of the
    oven for about 15 minutes or until they’re golden brown on top.
    Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray, they’ll
    harden as they cool. When they’ve cooled, turn out onto a
  8. Enjoy with a nice cup of tea.
    They’ll keep for about 2 weeks in an airtight container
    (that’s if you don’t eat them first!).

Chocolate crinkle cookies Makes
about 15-18

  • 120g dark chocolate (at
    least 70% cocoa solids)
  • 70g plain flour (this
    is what I used, but I’d put in 100g next time)
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking
  • pinch of salt
  • 60g
    unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 150g light
    brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20ml whole
    milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • 100g granulated
    sugar (I’d leave this out all together)
  • 100g
    confectioners’ sugar
  1. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie, or in a bowl over a
    saucepan of boiling water. When it’s melted, set aside to
    cool slightly
  2. Beat the butter and sugar
    together until pale and fluffy. You may find it easier to cut
    the butter into small squares, and definitely an electric whisk is
    pretty much essential if you don’t want your arm to fall
  3. Then add in the vanilla, egg and melted
  4. On a low speed, or slowly if doing
    it by hand (!), add about a quarter of the flour. when it’s
    combined, add a dash of the milk and mix that in. Continue
    alternating the flour and milk until it’s all combined.
  5. Put half the mixture on some clingfilm, wrap tightly and
    place in the freezer for at least 2 hours. Repeat with the
    rest of the mixture.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180
    degrees celsius. Put some baking paper on a baking
  7. Remove the mixture from the freezer.
    Put the granulated sugar (if using) in a bowl, and the icing
    sugar in a separate bowl.
  8. Roll the mixture
    into 1inch balls and roll in the granulated sugar (if using) before
    rolling in the icing sugar to coat.
  9. Place on
    the baking tray. Repeat with all the mixture until used up.
    Make sure the balls are widely spaced out, you may need
    several baking trays or do them in batches.
  10. Bake in the oven until they start to crack. This
    takes no time at all. Mine cracked in about 3 minutes, but I
    baked them for about 8 because they seemed so gooey.
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the trays.
    Mine needed to harden overnight as well as they were too
  12. When completely hardened, remove from
    the tray and enjoy with a glass of milk or cup of tea (or bottle of
    wine, depending on your preference!).
  13. These
    can be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place
    for about a week or two – unless you eat them sooner.

Happy baking!


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