Thursday, 17 December 2009

Dolcelatte and Parma Ham Gougeres

Oh baby its cold outside, so the idea of steaming hot cheese puffs is even more enticing than normal. The snow is falling thick and fast, the temperature is plummeting and warming food is definitely the order of the (very chilly) day. The best part is, they freeze well so I can make a huge batch and keep some to serve during the party season. These are usually made with gruyere but I wanted something just a little deeper in flavour and chunkier in texture. Using a stronger blue cheese, a gorgonzola or roquefort gives a great result but if you do, I wouldn't bother with the ham as the delicate flavour is overpowered.

Dolcelatte and Parma Ham Gougeres
250 ml whole milk
125g butter
salt and pepper
100g plain flour
3 large eggs
100g dolcelatte (or other mild blue cheese), crumbled
50g Parma Ham

Heat the oven to 220C/Gas 7.
Heat the milk, butter and a few grindings of salt and pepper in a saucepan until the butter has melted. Add the flour and whisk until the mixture starts to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and add the eggs and cheese. Beat until smooth and shiny. Snip the Parma ham into little shreds and stir through the batter.
Using two teaspoons, place dollops of the batter onto a baking tray and bake in the hot oven for around 10 minutes until light and golden.
Serve immediately or allow to cool and freeze.

Cranberry Sauce with Shiraz

I am getting my Christmas groove back. All the tricky chores are almost finished and only the lovely things remain. Christmas crafts with the boys, present wrapping, parties, menu planning and the nicer side of cooking. For me the fun starts when school stops. We'll be making home made biscuits to hang on the tree, canapes for parties, sauces, treats and fripperies.

First off, cranberry sauce. I love when the shops start getting their Christmas sandwiches in: turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing or brie and cranberry, and I love to make fresh cranberry sauce (the store-bought versions are so often more like overly-sweet jam than the requisite light fruity sauce) to see us through the post-christmas week of turkey, ham and cheese suppers. I've added a little bit of hot spice and limey zestiness to the usual flavours to cut through the sweetness of the cranberries. This is gorgeous served with baked camembert at a party and (obviously) perfect served with turkey or a hot spiced ham at Christmas lunch.

Cranberry Sauce with Shiraz
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Juice and zest of 1 lime
85g caster sugar
150ml shiraz or other fruity red wine
200g fresh cranberries
1/4 tsp allspice
1 hot red chilli

Dissolve the sugar in a pan with the red wine, orange juice and zest, and lime juice and zest.
Stir in the cranberries, whole chilli and allspice.
Cook uncovered for 10 minutes until the cranberries have all popped and softened and the juices are thickened. Remove the chilli before serving. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Visions of Sugar Plums

Poetic sweeties. I love these these tiny, (almost fat free), traditional christmas bites filled with dried fruit, aromatic spices, orange juice and nuts. One of my favourite Christmas stories is Clement Clark Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" where "visions of sugarplums danced in their heads."

The exact nature of sugar plums seems to change depending on which historian you read but these seem to be one of the more recent incarnations of this particular tradition. This recipe is based on a Saveur recipe from a few years ago but I've found similar all over the web; some containing chocolate, others a different blend of fruit and nuts so play around with the contents as much as you like. They would be lovely with the sharpness of dried cranberries added.

Sugar Plums
50g toasted slivered almonds
100g honey
(preferably orange blossom)
Juice and zest of one orange
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp allspice
1⁄2 tsp nutmeg
100g finely chopped dried apricots
100g finely chopped dried dates
100g icing sugar
Combine honey, orange zest and juice cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add almonds, apricots, and dates and mix well.
Roll the mixture into little balls. Roll balls in icing sugar, then refrigerate in single layers between sheets of greaseproof paper in airtight containers. They will keep for a week or two but they will absorb the icing sugar so it is worth rolling them once again just before serving.
Serve with coffee or port.

Cranberry and Tangerine Scones

I have been neglectful of my Christmas cooking duties. December has been lost to one cold or sore throat after another and suddenly we have less than two weeks to go and nothing has been done!

So as of today I have to get cracking, every day I have something planned. Like a Martha Stewart monthly calendar, I have listed all the food, drink and
entertaining jobs needing done and assigned days and hours to the tasks. So christmas morning scones are today's task. These would freeze well to be heated up on the day - but unfortunately there are none left so expect I will  make them fresh on the day. It is the season for citrus fruit and I particularly love the taste of sweet tangerines but oranges, clemantines or even fresh juice out of a carton would give a similar end product.

Cranberry and Tangerine Scones
100g (4oz) fresh cranberries, chopped
1 tbsp caster sugar

350g (12oz) self-raising flour
100g (4oz) caster sugar
85g (3oz) cold unsalted butter
100 ml yogurt
50ml whole milk
1 egg
Juice and zest of 2 tangerines (or around  50ml orange juice) 

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
Toss the chopped cranberries with the 1tbsp of caster sugar and set aside.
Mix together the flour and sugar in a bowl. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Try to be as light-fingered as possible and handle the mixture as little as possible- this will keep the scones light and airy as they bake. Add the cranberries to the dry mixture.
Stir together the yogurt, milk, egg and the juice and zest of the tangerines. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix gently to form a soft dough.
Roll the dough out to 3cm/1inch thickness and cut out rounds with a cutter, I like these to be dainty and delicate, around 3cm in diameter. Collect the trimmings together, re-roll and cut out more rounds.
Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.

These are lovely topped with a tangerine and icing sugar glaze and served with morning coffee but I find this to be a little too sweet for breakfast. 

These scones can be prepared the night before for a quick breakfast. Leave the dry ingredients and fruit mixed together in one bowl, set the jug of ready mixed wet ingredients in the fridge overnight and in the morning, they can be mixed together, rolled out and baked.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hot Spinach and Parmesan Dip

Served bubbling hot or at room temperature with crusty bread or crudites, this is one of those stand-by storecupboard American recipes that are rarely found in British kitchens but made at the drop of a hat in American ones.

It is really quickly thrown together (quick canapes for unexpected guests are extra useful at this time of year). I always keep those balls of frozen spinach in the freezer so am only ever 10 minutes away from this hot full-flavoured dish. Adapted from a recipe at, it is high on my emergency list of party food.

Spinach and Parmesan Dip
4 balls of frozen spinach
(approx 150g frozen weight) 
1 packet onion soup mix
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup natural yogurt       (or soured cream)
50g Parmesan Cheese

Defrost the spinach then blitz  in a blender with the soup mix, mayonnaise and yogurt. To serve cold, pour into a bowl and serve just as it is, (it really is that simple).

If you want to serve the dip hot, pour into an oven proof serving dish, top with grated parmesan cheese and place into the oven (180C) and warm for 10 minutes then serve with crusty bread or fresh vegetables.