This was followed up by a return hosting chez nous that consisted of a boiled and baked ham, luxury mac and cheese followed by dark chocolate bark and peanut butter cookies.
I have to say, the ham was glorious. It wasn’t special. It didn’t come from a butcher. As far as I’m aware, it wasn’t free range, organic or fed a special diet. Just an average smoked ham joint purchased in a supermarket. It weighed about 2.3kg – just for completeness. This was brought up to the boil in water and then the water and scum discarded. Back in some clean water (in the past I have used cider, but you can use anything from cola to ginger beer to ale) with the addition of a chunky chopped carrot, a quartered onion, star anise, quartered red chilli, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and 5 green cardamoms that had been crushed enough to open the pods but not spill the fragrant seeds.
This was boiled for about 2 and a half to 3 hours (using the standard of 30 mins per 500g), drained and had the fat cut off (which is now hanging in the garden for the birds to peck at). Traditionally at this point the remaining fat could be scored and cloves inserted into the crossing of each diamond and then have a sticky glaze painted over before being roasted. However, I can’t be doing with all that, so I whipped up a glaze of ginger marmalade, English mustard powder, honey and dark muscovado slapped that on and then sliced up a couple of tangerines (could’ve been satsumas or even clementines …) into rings and placed on top. Into a pre-heated oven in a tray lined with foil for 30-40 minutes.
The ‘luxury mac and cheese’ is pretty simple. A cheddar and parmesan cheese sauce is made with the addition of cream, mascarpone or creme fraiche. Note here that the creme fraiche imparts a rather tart flavour which brings out the tang of the parmesan nicely. Consequently you can’t use the same volume of creme fraiche as double cream – but experiment yourself!
This is mixed with some fried leek and spinach (usually there would also be some pancetta, but in this instance we thought that we’d have enough pork!) before being added to the cheese sauce along with a packet of cooked macaroni. Honestly, use whatever small-ish pasta you want here. Nobody’s that bothered.
Put into an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with grated parmesan and place under the grill until bubbly and crisp.
Some garlic bread and a green salad dressed simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and we were away!
The chocolate bark was a cinch to make. Just melted 200g of mixed very dark and milk chocolates in a bain marie before pouring onto a sheet pan lined with greaseproof paper. There was a rough rectangle drawn onto the reverse – approximately 9″ x 10″ – and then onto this was scattered some roast cashews, 100g of diced dried apricot and 100g of mixed dried berries (actually, the berry mix that I’d purchased when I was looking for dried cherries and didn’t use!). This was left to cool during the day and then cut into chunks. A great contrast in textures and flavours! A white chocolate one with some very tart fruit and salted nuts would be wonderful.
The peanut butter cookies were taken from this recipe, with the addition of some dark chocolate chips and self-raising flour in place of the plain flour and bicarbonate of soda. Oh, and the removal of the salt …
Christmas Eve over and done with, including the washing up, it was one sleep until the Big Day. This started – as it usually does for me – with a phone call to my mum (dutiful son …) and then on to some fried ham, eggs (this year scrambled, generally fried) and toast. With a lovely cup of tea.
A brief sojourn to the living room for some peace and quiet (okay, okay, this would normally be a time for stockings but this year we’d decided on not) and then off to the woods for a walk.
Two hours later (ahem) we were home and I figured that I should probably start with dinner …
Bacon-wrapped corn-fed poussin, roast potatoes and parsnips, julienne carrots, red onion stuffing balls, pigs in blankets, chipolatas, sautéed sprouts with onion and bacon, bread sauce and pan gravy. Beautiful. And no room for dessert which was just as well as we hadn’t made any …
So there you have it! I hope that you all are enjoying your own festivities, whatever form they may take.
I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to the Foodie Penpal programme that kicks off again in January.
I’ll leave you with the image of Clive – the Christmas Ceratosaurus …