Saturday, 31 December 2011

Vegetarian - Vegetable Medley Paella

To cook for a vegetarian is one of those thing that always poses as a challenge to most. I am not a vegetarian but after talking to quite a few of my vegetarian friends, I have to agree with them that quite often, there is not a lot of good options out there catering for them. Stuffed vegetables are sometimes just too boring or a cliché. So I have decided to include some vegetarian recipe on my blog. 

This is one of the dish that I have cooked for my friends and they all loved it. It just look like glorious sunshine on a plate. It is also a good vegetarian alternative to the normal Spanish Paella that includes Chorizo sausages and seafood.  The inclusion of different vegetables add textures and colour to the finished dish. A good vegetable stock is essential here, I used Marigold Swiss Organic Vegetable Bouillon which I personally think is one of the best that I've tried. I have also took the more adventurous route of cooking the Paella outdoor on a barbecue but this is just as easy to make on a conventional hob.

Cooking Paella on a BBQ
Vegetable Medley Paella

Recipe (adapted from 'Plenty' by Yotam Ottolenghi):
(serves 2-4, depending on how hungry you are)

3tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, cut into strips
1 fennel bulb, cut into strips
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, feel free to add more if you like it spicy
150g Calasparra rice (Paellla rice)
a small pinch of saffron, soaked in 50ml warm water
450ml good vegetable stock, I used Marigold Swiss Organic Vegetable Bouillon
200g shelled broad beans (fresh or frozen)
12 mini plum tomatoes, halved
5 small grilled artichokes in oil from a jar, drained and quartered
15 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
2 tbsp chopped fresh parley
1 lemon, cut into wedges 
Sea salt

Heat up the olive oil in a paella pan, or a large shallow frying pan (I have used a roasting tin here), and gently sauté the onions, peppers and fennels for about 7-8 minutes, until soften and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Add the bay leaves, paprika,turmeric and cayenne paper to the vegetables and stir well. Then add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before adding in the saffron and the socking liquid. Stir and then add the stock and season with salt. Reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan and don't stir the rice during cooking. This produces a crusty and crispy bottom as the rice caramelised and toasted at the bottom of the pan during the cooking and it is precisely this that give the Paella it's authentic flavour.

Meanwhile pour plenty of boiling water over the brad beans in a bowl and leave for a minute, then drain well and leave to cool down. Now squeeze each bean gently to remove the outer skin and discard it. This is not essential but it is worth doing if you've got the time as it gives you this glorious vibrant green beans. 

Remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and season accordingly without stirring the rice and vegetables too much. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes and broad beans over the rice and cover the pan highly with foil. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Take off the foil. Scatter the olives and parley on top of the paella. Serves with wedges of lemon.

Vegetarian - Sweet Potato, Goat's cheese and Chilli Galette

Sweet Potato, Goat's cheese and Chilli Galette
served with a simple watercress salad

Sweet Potato, Goat's cheese and Chilli Galette
out of the oven

Sweet Potato, Goat's cheese and Chilli Galette

These little galettes are delicious as a starter or even main. It is like an explosion of flavours. They are sweet from the potatoes, slightly salty from the goat's cheese and a hint of spiciness from the chilli. The addition of a good dollop of soured cream and the puff pastry just make these galettes so light and scrumptious. If you have the time, I would suggest making your own puff pastry. But unlike shortcrust pastry, this is quite a laborious process, so a shop bought version on this occasion is just as good, but make sure you get  a good quality all-butter pastry. This can be served warm or cold which makes this also perfect for party to picnic food.

Recipe (adapted from 'Plenty' by Yotam Ottolenghi)
(Makes 4)

3 medium sweet potatoes, roughly weighing about 350g each
250g puff pastry, shop bought is absolutely fine
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
100ml soured cream
100g hard goat's cheese
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 medium-hot chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed 
a handful chopped fresh parley
Sea salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C . Bake the sweet potatoes in their skins for 35-45 minutes. Leave until cool enough to handle, then peel and cut into thin slices, about 3mm thick.
Roll out the puff pastry to about 2mm thick on a lightly floured work surface (this prevent the pastry from sticking). Cut out out four 7 x 14cm rectangles and prick them all over with a fork. Line a small baking sheet with baking parchment and place the pastry rectangles on it, well spaced apart and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and lightly brushed with beaten egg. Spread a thin layer of soured cream onto the pastries, leaving a 5mm border all round. This allow the border to rise during the baking. Arrange the potato slices on the pastry, slightly overlapping, keeping clear of the border. Season with salt and pepper and crumble in the goat's cheese on top and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds and chilli. Bake in the oven for 20-25minutes or until the pastry is cooked through. 
Whilst the galettes are cooking, stir together the olive oil, garlic, parley and a pinch of salt. As soon as the pastries come out of the oven, brush them with this mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Mexican-inspired Turkey, Bacon, Jalapeńo, Peas and Cheddar Quesadillas

Turkey, Bacon, Jalepeño, Peas and Cheddar Quesadilla
Leftover ingredients from Christmas
Making the Quesadilla......
...... topped with cheddar cheese
Pan frying the Quesadilla

Considering all the major effort and hard works that has gone into preparing the Christmas lunch, the last thing you want to do is to go throughout all of that again on Boxing day. Quesadillas are pan fried tortillas stuffed with cheese and practically anything else you fancy. These are perfect for using up the leftover turkey and it is also unbelievably easy to make. The addition of the Chipotles en adobo just give this the most delicious smokiness taste. Minimum preparation and cooking and maximum flavours, just what the doctor order after the eventful Christmas day.


I have not given an exact ingredients list as this will depends on what you have left-over from the main day and whatever is available in you pantry. I have here some cooked turkey which I have roughly chopped into equal-size chunks. Some creamed peas from my Christmas eve dinner. Jalepeño chillies and red piquillo pepper from jar, roughly chopped. Some grated cheddar or any other hard cheese. A couple of tablespoon of the Chipotles en adobo and a packet of corn or flour tortilla.
Mix everything together except for the cheese and the tortilla. Season with salt and pepper according to taste. Filled one half of a tortilla with the turkey mixture and sprinkle with a fistful of the grated cheese. Fold the tortilla over so that you have a half moon. Brush it with a little olive oil (so the tortilla it doesn't stick to the pan) and place in a hot, dry frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes until golden and crisp, flip it over and cooked for another minute or two on the other side. Removed and cut into wedges and serves with your favourite salsa.

Chipotles en Adobo - Mexican Smokey Chilli Sauce

Chipotles en Adobo
Chipotle chillies

Mexican food are not only easy to prepare, but also absolutely delicious. Different variety of Chillies are often used , dried and fresh, not only to provide heat to the dish but also to impart their unique flavour. Chipotles en Adobo is a smoky, sweet sauce/purée made from the dried chipotle chillies. A chipotle is a smoked, dries jalapeño chilli with an intoxicating fiery flavour. I always make this in a big batch and store it in a clean sterilised jar. This is an indispensable ingredients as it add enormous flavour to braised meats, sauces, stews, dressing and even for a pizza topping. It is also one of the essential ingredient for my Chile con Carne dish. Chipotle chillies are now increasingly easy to obtain here in London. You can find it readilly available in Borough Market, The Spice Shop on Portobello road or on the MexGrocer website. This sauce/pureé can also be bought ready made in a jar but I personally think nothing beat a homemade version. Once made, this will keep and lasts for months.

(makes about a litres)

200g chipotle chillies (about 65)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves roughly chopped
3tbsp fresh oregano or 1tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp fresh thyme or 1/2 tbsp dries thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin seed, toasted and crushed
4tbsp olive oil
350ml white wine vinegar
50ml balsamic vinegar
3tbsp tomato pureé
7tbsp demerara or dark brown sugar
2 tbsp Sea salt

Wash the chipotles in cold water and drain. Snip off the stalk end of each chilli. This allows the water to penetrate their tough skins.

Cover the chillies with water in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for 35-40 minutes until completely soften. Drain and set aside. Reserved the cooking liquid.

Put the onion, garlic, herbs and cumin in a blender together with 200ml of water and six of the soften chillies and pureé to a smooth paste.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. When smoking hot, add the chillies paste and fry for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly with a spatula to prevent it from burning. Add the vinegars, tomato pureé, sugar, salt and 100ml of the cooking liquid and cooked for another 5 minutes before adding in the rest of the chillies. Cook, whilst stirring, for a further 15 minutes. Check for seasoning and add more salt or sugar if necessary. Remove from heat and allows to cool. Once cooled completely, tip into a blender and blend into smooth pureé. Store in a clean, sterilised jar.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Pan-fried Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Chillies and Garlic

Pan-fried Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Chillies and
Pan-fried Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Chillies and
Purple Brussel sprouts

A stalk of Purple Brussel sprouts 

I loves Brussels sprouts and this to me is an excellent way of cooking it. Pan frying them in a searing hot pan slightly charred the sprouts and add to the nuttiness flavour. This is so easy to make and will be a great accompaniment to any dish. I have used the purple sprouting variety but the normal variety is just as good. If you are vegetarian, just omit the Pancetta. This will, I believe, convert even the most stubborn sprouts-hater. Do not overcooked the sprouts, there should still be some crunch to it and not all soggy and mushy.

(Serves 4-6 as side dish)

1kg Brussels sprouts, halves
100g Pancetta, cubed
2 large chilli, deseeded and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium onion, cut into small cubes
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper

Fill a pot with water and bring to the boil. Add a pinch of salt and bro the boiling water blanch the Brussels sprouts for 3 minutes, then drains and tip into a bowled of iced water to cool them down quickly. This stop any further cooking and retain their colours.
Heat up a large frying pan, drizzle with some olive oil and sauté the panetta, if using for a few minutes, until crispy. Add the sprouts to the pan and sauté for a minute, then add the chillies, garlic and onion and toss everything together and cooked for a further 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serves.

Christmas Lunch - BBQ Turkey with all the trimmings

BBQ Turkey with all the trimmings
BBQ Turkey with all the trimmings
Christmas Lunch
Maple- syrup roasted parsnip and Pan fried brussels
sprouts with pancetta, chilli and garlic

My plate
Turkey wrapped in streaky bacons

Ever since I BBQ my Turkey last Christmas, I have never looked back. There is , I think, no other better way of cooking this festive bird. Once on the barbecue, the intense heat from the glowing coals sealed the turkey almost instantly thus locking in all the juices. And it is precisely due to this searing heat condition, the turkey get cooked quicker and faster than in a conventional oven. And for two years in a row, I have gone straight for the breast meat rather than the legs. The temptation, as I carved into the bird and seeing all the clear juices dribbled down the breast is just too much to resist. The succulent breast is the main reason why I have decided to revisit the idea of cooking this years Christmas Turkey on the BBQ again. And this year, i have made roast parsnips in maple syrup and pan-fried purple sprouting Brussels sprouts with pancetta, chillies and garlic to go with the festive feast.
The obvious downside for cooking the turkey this way is how to keep the coals burning for a long time in order to cook the bird. I am quite lucky as I have always able to get a rather small turkey, roughly 3.5kg, which takes around 2 hours to cook so that means I was able to complete the entire cooking process on the barbecue. But if you are preparing it for a large family, there are a couple of ways to solve this problem. The obvious solution is to start the cooking process on the BBQ and then finish off by popping the turkey into the oven. This will still work, provided you do not overcook the turkey in the oven. The juices are still sealed in and the flavour will still be enhanced by the coals to give it a smokey flavour. Another way of solving this problem is to invest in a charcoal starter/Chimney starter. This is basically a steel canister in which you can start the coal burning process, and when they turned glowing white, you can pour the coals into the BBQ, thus allowing you to cook the entire turkey.
Cooking Christmas dinner is a long process and to ease up on the stress on the actual day, all preparation should be done the day before, which I have. The Sage, chestnut and cranberries stuffing should be made at lease couple of days in advance so that the flavour has time to mingle. And on Christmas eve, the turkey stock was made from the giblets, the Chipolatas was pre-wrapped with the streaky bacon. The star of the meal, the glorious turkey has been rubbed with luscious butter, the membrane between the skin and the breast has been slightly separated and a few sage leaves, together with some soften butter has been inserted between the layers,. This not only baste the turkey as it cooks but also impart more flavour to the flesh. The neck cavity has been stuffed with a small amount of the stuffing, this again give the turkey more flavour. The bird is then season with salt and pepper and then layered with some streaky bacon. All this might sound like a lot of handwork but believe me, it is utter important to do them for a truly flavoursome and moist turkey.

Here are the recipe for my BBQ Turkey with all the trimmings:
(serves 4-6)

For the Turkey:

3.5kg fresh turkey, with giblets(for the stock)
50g butter, room temperature
a few fresh sage leaves
16 rashers streaky bacon
Salt and pepper

For the Stuffing:

1 large onions, finely chopped
100g Pancetta, cubed
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
500g mince pork (I prefer them to the pre-prepared sausage meat)
100g roasted chestnuts, chopped
50g fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
1 apple, grated
75g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 eggs
Sal and pepper

For the Gravy:

2 tbsp of plain flour
600ml turkey stock, made from fried or roasted giblets boiled in water with some celery, onion, bay leaves and carrots and reduced
1 tbsp red current jelly
1 tbsp maple syrup
Salt and pepper

For the Pigs in blanket:

12 small Chipolata sausages
12 rashers streaky bacon

For the Roast potatoes:

8-10 medium potatoes, peeled and halves

Goose fat
Sunflower oil
1 tsp Cayenne pepper

For the Garnish:

A bunch of fresh watercress
A handful of fresh cranberries

Make the stuffing at least 2 days in advance. This allows the flavours to mingle and also ready to be used to 'stuffed' the turkey on Christmas eve.
Melt the butter and cooked the chopped pancetta for a few minutes until it is crispy. Add the onions and sauté until soften. Add the orange zest and sage and removed from the heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, add the onion mixture to the mince pork along with the cranberries, chestnuts, apples and breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. The orange juice and egg can now be added and mix thoroughly. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

On the eve of Christmas, the turkey can now be prepared and stuffed. Filled the neck cavity with the stuffing and fold the excess skin under. Gently release the skin from the breast and push some soften butter together with a few sage leaves between the skin and the meat. As the turkey cook, the butter will melt and baste the meat. Arrange the streaky bacon on top of the turkey, overlapping slightly. The turkey can now be wrapped in foil and store in the fridge until the big day. The remaining stuffing can be rolled into a tiny little balls and keep on a plate in the fridge, wrapped with cling film.

On Christmas day, start by lighting up the barbecue. When the flames have dies off and the coals turned white, place the turkey on the BBQ. Slightly unwrapped the foil and place the lid of the BBQ back on. At this point, do not open the lid again until the complete 2 hours is up. The temperature will dropped every time the lid is open and this will risk under cooking the turkey.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the potatoes for about 5-6 minutes. Drain in a colander and shake slightly so that the edges are slightly broken down. These rough edges will become crisp and crunchy during the roasting. In a roasting tin, heat up some goose fat and sunflower oil, I find using this mixture produces the best roast potatoes. Add the parboiled potatoes to the tin and season with salt and cayenne pepper. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes before turning in the pan. Roast for another 30-40 minutes until cooked and crispy. At the same time, place the stuffing balls and the pigs in blanket in the oven as these will takes about 40 minutes to cooked.

Once the turkey are done, removed from the barbecue and rest for at least 15 minutes. Prepare the gravy. Heat some butter in a pan, add the flour and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the turkey stock and reduced slightly. Add the redcurrant jelly and the maple syrup and cooked for a few more minutes. Any juices from the resting turkey can also be added to make the gravy more flavoursome. Season with salt and pepper and strain through a fine sieve. The gravy is now ready.

Place the turkey on a large plate, along with the streaky bacon, pigs in blankets, stuffing balls and roast potatoes. Garnish with some watercress and cranberries and served with a hot gravy.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A very Nordic Christmas - Roast Lemon and Dill Salmon, with Skagen Butter, Cardamon Caramel Potatoes and Creamed Peas

Roast lemon and dill salmon, with skagen butter, cardamon
caramel potatoes and creamed peas
Roast lemon and dill salmon
Homemade bread
Homemade bread
Salmon stuffed with lemon, dill and red onions ready
for the oven
Christmas is a special time for all of us. It's when we all get together with family, friends and all our love ones.
A dear friend of ours has accepted our invitation to join us for Christmas eve this year and that makes it an even more special day. Traditionally in lots of other countries, Christmas is celebrated on the eve rather than on Christmas day itself. So I've decided to prepared a Nordic inspired Christmas feast . It is quite apt as she is a prescatarian and I think a Nut roast is too much of a cliché so Salmon main will be an excellent choice. It's just grand enough to be the centre piece on the table and the ceremonies of 'carving' it at the table will provide just the right atmosphere of a Christmas Roast.
This is a also a great alternative to anyone who is not a big fan of the traditional bird. Not only is it easy to prepare, which takes the stress out of the normal Christmas Day chaos, it is also absolutely delicious and light. That means you will have a lot more room for other treats like the puddings, mince pies and cakes.
I have only used half of the whole Salmon here but if you are cooking for more people, use the whole fish. I have also made some fresh bread to go with the cheese course and the whole meal was finished off with a serving of the Christmas Yule log. It was one of the best Christmas eve ever for me!


For the Skagen (prawn, caviar and red onion) butter:

250g unsalted butter, softened

2 ½ tbsp small orange roe, preferably lumpfish roe

6 cooked king prawn, peeled, de-veined and finely chopped

½ small red onion, very finely diced

½ tsp finely chopped lemon zest

1 small handful dill, finely chopped

Salt and white pepper, to taste

For the Cardamom caramel potatoes:
2kg new potatoes, peeled

115g caster sugar

125g unsalted butter

A large pinch of ground cardamom

For the Creamed peas:
500g frozen peas

2tbsp butter

125g creme fraiche

Salt and white pepper, to taste

3.5kg whole, cleaned and scaled salmon

2 red onions, thinly sliced

2 lemons, thinly sliced

3 large dill sprigs

Olive oil, for coasting

Sea salt

125ml dry white wine

To make the skagen butter, combine all the ingredients in a bowl, stirring well. Season with plenty of salt and white pepper. Spoon in a log shape onto some plastic wrap, then roll up, twisting the ends of the plastic to make a firm sausage shape. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375F/gas 5). Then cook the potatoes in salted boiling water for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain well, cover to keep warm and set aside.
To make the creamed peas, cook the peas in boiling water for about 5 minutes, or until tender, then drain well. Combine the peas with the butter and creme fraiche in a food processor and blend until smooth. Tip into a small saucepan and season to taste with salt and a little white pepper. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.
Rinse the salmon inside and out and pat dry with paper towels . Then insert half the onion, lemon slices and dill sprigs in the cavity. Rub all over with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Next wrap the head and tail with foil. Make a bed of the remaining onion and lemon in the base of a roasting tin. Place the fish on top of the bed and pour the wine and 250ml of water into the base of the tin. Cook the fish in the oven for a bout 45 minutes, basting regularly with the juices, until the dorsal fin is very loose or comes off when jiggled. At this stage the fish should be cooked through but still quite pink and translucent in the centre of the fillet.
Meanwhile, to caramelise the potatoes, place the sugar in a large heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has melted. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until it turns golden. Carefully stir in the butter and cardamom – the caramel will become lumpy but will melt as you continue to cook. Now add the potatoes and shake the pan for 6 minutes, or until the potatoes are caramelised and heated through. Season to taste and keep warm.
Gently reheat the creamed peas, if necessary. Lift the salmon out of the roasting tin. Carefully transfer onto a warmed serving platter. Now remove the foil from the head and tail and carefully peel back the skin from the top side of the fish, starting at the head end and pulling towards the tail; discard the skin. Finally serve portions of the fish on a bed of the creamed peas with a dollop of the skagen butter on top and the potatoes on the side.

Christmas Chestnut Cream and Chocolate Yule Log (Buche De Noel)

Buche De Noel (Chestnut and Chocolate Yule Log)
Buche De Noel (Chestnut and Chocolate Yule Log)
Last year's Yule log with some of my handmade icing

This is another one of my favourite. As much as I love the traditional Christmas cake, sometime I think it's much far too rich and heavy. Lots of my friends don't really like the dried fruits so this is a good alternative for Christmas entertaining. And the icing Christmas tree and holly figurine and the light dust of icing sugar just make this a truly special festive celebration treat.......let it snow....let it snow.....!


4 large eggs, at room temperature
145g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsweetened pure cocoa powder
40g cornflour
75g plain flour
25g ground almonds
a large pinch of baking powder
3 tbsp almond-flavoured liqueur, such as Ameratto or Crème de Amandes, for brushing
Icing sugar, for dusting

For the chestnut filling:

210g unsweetened chestnut purée
2 1/2 tbsp almond-flavoured liqueur, such as Ameratto or Crème de Amandes
60g icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125ml whipping cream

For the Chocolate Ganache:

185ml whipping cream
50g unsalted butter, room temperature, softened
300g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa content, roughly break into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a 25 x 30cm Swiss roll tin with baking paper.

Beat the eggs with a whisk for about 6-8 minutes until starting to become thick and creamy. If you're lucky enough to have an electric which, use that and it should takes about 2 minutes. Add a table spoon of sugar at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until the sugar has completely dissolve - the mixture should not feel gritty. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift the cocoa, cornflour, plain flour, ground almonds and baking powder together twice. This give you a lighter sponge cake. Add half of the flour mixture into the egg mixture and carefully fold it in using a spatula, taking not to beat out all the air. Add the remaining flour mixture and fold it through again, be as gentle as you can. Carefully pour the mixture into the prepare tin and smooth over. Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden all over and it should spring back when given a gentle poke. Or test it by inserting a knife and it should come out clean. Remove from oven and invert the cake into a clean tea towel that has been line with a baking paper and dusted with some icing sugar, this will help to prevent the cake from sticking to the paper. Peel off the baking paper used to lined the tin and discard. Brush the top of the cake with the almond liqueur. Using the tea towel to help you, carefully roll up the cake and the baking paper lengthwise. Place the roll up cake on a cake rack and allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the filling by beating the chestnut purée, almond liqueur, sugars and vanilla until very smooth. Whip the cream to a firm peak, then fold into the chestnut mixture. Cover and chill until ready to use.

When the cake is completely cool, carefully unroll, discarding the baking paper and spread the chestnut cream thinly over the top. Roll up again, place the seam side down on a serving platter, and refrigerated until needed.

To make the ganache, heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat until just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until they are completely melted. Allow to cool slightly and then beat in the softened butter until the mixture is smooth and a consistent colour. Chill in the fridge for about an hour until a spreadable consistency.

When ready to ice the cake, cut , on a diagonal about a quarter of the cake from one end of the log. Spread a little of the ganache on the cut side of the small piece of cake and adhere it to one side of the log to make a small 'branch'. Spread the rest of the ganache over the entire cake, then run a fork over the top to create a bark-like effect, complete with knots. Cover and refrigerate overnight. This allow the cake to rest so it has the right consistency and flavour.

When ready to serve, liberally dust the cake with icing sugar, to represent snow and garnish as desired.

Christmas Mince Balls

Christmas Mince Balls

I love Christmas! Simply because it gives me an excuse to do some serious cooking. It all kick start for me when it hits December. Never before as I think it ruins the spirits of Christmas. In my house, there will be no Christmas songs, decorations and cards until I lifted off the first date on the advent calendar and savoured the delightful chocolate treat hidden behind.
So far, i have made my mincemeat, which has now gone into the making of my modern take on the traditional mince pies........The Mince Balls. Yes, that's right! They are like delicious bite size yumminess....! I personally think they are much nicer than the traditional mince pies as it has a much more balanced of pastry to mincemeat ratio, great if you are trying not to cut down on consuming too much pastry this Christmas.


For the sweet shortcrust pastry:

225g plain flour
Pinch of salt
150g cold butter, chopped into 1.5cm cubes
75g icing sugar (use caster sugar if you wish but icing sugar as it produces a smoother pastry)
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg

Sift the flour with the salt into a cold mixing bowl. Quickly rub the flour and butter together to a crumble texture. Stir the sugar into the flour mixture, then add the egg yolk and egg. Work everything together and refrigerate for at least an hour before using.

For the mincemeat:
(makes approx. 2.75 kg)

450g Bramley apples, cored and chopped
225g shredded suet or vegetarian suet
350g raisins
225g sultanas
225g currants
225g mixed chopped candied peel
350g soft dark brown sugar
Juice and grated zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
50g whole almond, roughly chopped
4 tsp mixed ground spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Nutmeg, grated
6 tbsp brandy

Combine all ingredients, except for the brandy, in a large mixing bowl, stirred and mixed them thoroughly. Then cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave in a cool place overnight and let the flavours mingle and develop. After that, transfer the mixture into a oven proof bowl. Cover loosely with foil and place in a pre-heated oven, 120ºC, for 3 hours.

Then remove the bowl from the oven. As it cools, stir it from time to time. When the mixture is quite cold, stir in the brandy and packed in a clean, sterile jar.

For the Mince Balls:

Sweet Shortcrust pastry
Milk, for brushing
Icing sugar, to decorate

To make the mince balls, roll out the pastry to a 0.5cm thickness. Use a round cutter cut into, individual discs, roughly 8cm diameter. Fill a teaspoonful of mincemeat into the centre of the discs and then roll into a ball, making sure the filling are sealed in. Repeat until all pastry are used up. Chill before baking.

Pre-heat the oven to 200, place the mince balls onto a baking tray and lightly brushed the top of the balls with milk. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Once golden, crisp and cooked, removed and allow to cool completely. Dust with the icing sugar and serve.


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