Tag Archives: Christmas

Carol’s Christmas Mince Pies

I love a good mince pie. How could you not love a festive, icing sugar topped tender pastry, enveloping a deeply comforting warm mix of fruit, candied peel, spice, even some nuts and brandy. There’s the additional joy of being able to eat one you made yourself, still warm from your oven.

I found a jar of Tiptree brand mince filling in my supermarket. My favourite store-bought jams are Tiptree, so into my basket that jar went. I do need to caveat though, that the Tiptree mince ended up being very treacly (for want of a better word) and almost too alcoholic (never thought I’d ever say those words) for my liking. I have since found that Marks & Spencer do a mince filling which is Red-Riding-hood just right.

Nigel Slater has a really easy recipe that I used – I used a variety of tart cases rather than a tart tin just because I don’t own a tart tin, and perhaps my pastry was thicker, I only managed to make 12.

Ingredients makes about 12 – 18 tarts, depending on thickness of your pastry

  1. 150g unsalted
  2. 300g plain flour
  3. good pinch of salt
  4. 1 egg yolk
  5. a little cold water
  6. 375g good-quality mincemeat
  7. icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour in a food processor.  Pulse until you have what looks like coarse, fresh breadcrumbs
  2. Add the salt and pulse to mix
  3. Add the egg yolk and pulse again to mix well
  4. Add just enough cold water to bring the dough together. Add one teaspoon at a time – it’s surprising how little you actually need
  5. Bring the dough together on to a floured board and knead gently for a few minutes until it softens
  6. Reserve half of the dough, then roll the remainder to about 5 mm
  7. Preheat oven to 200C/390F
  8. Cut out 12 discs of pastry to fit the bottom of your tart tray/tart cases. Place the pastry in the bottom of your case, smoothing them up the sides so the edges stand very slightly above the top of the edge
  9. Fill each one with a dollop of mincemeat. Be generous.
  10. Roll out the remaining pastry and make a further 12 discs of pastry
  11. Slightly dampen each of these round the edge with cold water then lay them over each tart and press firmly to seal the edges.
  12. Cut a small slit in the centre of each pie and bake for 20 minutes till golden
  13. Let them calm down for a few minutes, then serve warm, dusted with icing sugar
  14. Store any leftover pies in an airtight container

Merry Messy Christmas !

A wonderful way to celebrate anything

I love a Sunday champagne brunch. Add it being Christmas so that someone else cooks you an enormous array of food with none of the stress of having to cook, and more importantly, none of the washing up, and that makes a pretty good way to spend any afternoon in my books.

D and I were family-less in Singapore this year, so we were adopted out to a friend’s family who were visiting from the UK, and we decided to celebrate Christmas with them at the gorgeous Fullerton Hotel.

Roasted turkey with Yorkshire pudding and gravy

The hotel extended their usual brunch area to include the other restaurants and half of the lobby so we were literally surrounded by happy, festive people, and a lot food.

The essentials for Christmas – roast turkey, ham, beef and lamb were on offer with all the trimmings, in addition to the standard brunch fare of cold seafood, Asian roast meats (char siew, roast pork and duck), breakfast station, and the appetiser station. And of course let’s not forget the sweets, for which the Fullerton outdid itself this year. I think I counted three dessert tables that included a chocolate fountain and so much cheese I found it hard to find my favourites.

Selection of appetisers – foie gras on a fig compote, champagne truffle risotto and roasted pumpkin ravioli

And with a glass of Moet champagne that was attentively never less than half full throughout the four hours we were there and we had a very, very, merry (and messy) Christmas ! I hope everyone had a wonderful festive weekend with family and friends as well !


Delicate Shortbread Christmas Cookies

I’ve made shortbread with rice flour before, and this time I substituted half a cup of plain flour with cornflour to make the shortbread melt in your mouth (rather than have the crispy texture you get with rice flour). Use the best quality butter you can find because you can really taste it in shortbread. I also use a vanilla bean paste but you can use pure vanilla extract. Just don’t use anything labeled “imitation” – apart from being made in a lab, it leaves a bitter aftertaste.

These rich, tender cookies go perfectly with a nice hot cup of tea.

Ingredients makes about 40 stars

  1. 250g unsalted butter at room temperature
  2. 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  3. 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
  4. 1/2 – 3/4 tsp salt (I think every sweet thing needs salt for balance, so it might be a bit heavy for some, adjust to your own taste)
  5. 1 3/4 cups plain flour
  6. 1/2 cup cornflour

Method

  1. Cream the butter till light and creamy (about 1 minute)
  2. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue beating for another 2 minutes
  3. Stir flours into the butter/sugar mix until just combined
  4. Put the dough onto a large piece of clingfilm, shaping into a rectangle as you go, wrap/cover and let rest in the fridge for an hour
  5. Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
  6. Roll the delicate dough on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch and cut out whatever shapes you want. Dip the cutter into a bowl of flour before you cut each cookie to help you get the dough out of the cutter
  7. Place on a baking paper-lined tray and decorate with any sugar or silver cachous you want
  8. Bake for 10 minutes till lightly brown
  9. Let cool for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely
  10. You can decorate with any icing once cooled if you fancy

Pea and ham soup

I love pea and ham soup. I find it so hearty and comforting and I love the vibrant green colour with the pink specks of ham (which really shouldn’t work as food) and was always a traditional post Christmas dish from the left over ham. I don’t have a proper butcher near me so I don’t have easy access to ham on the bone, but I have found a substitute which works well. Bacon bones can easily be found at Cold Storage and I use these as well as supplement with normal shaved/sliced ham.

Ingredients to make 6 -8 servings (make lots and freeze the leftovers for a quick dinner or snack later)

  1. 1 onion, diced
  2. 200g bacon bones
  3. 100 g finely sliced ham
  4. 200g split green peas (I’ve also used yellow when I couldn’t find green)
  5. 2 bay leaves

Method

  1. Sweat the onion over low heat until translucent
  2. Turn the heat to medium and fry the bacon bones, stirring occasionally for 10 mins
  3. Add the peas and bay leaves and enough water to just cover the peas
  4. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours
  5. Take out the bacon and let cool before shredding/slicing
  6. Remove the bay leaves and discard
  7. Blend the pea soup (without the bacon) until it’s the consistency you’d like.  Add more water if it’s too thick
  8. Add the bacon and the ham to the pureed soup and season if necessary

Christmas roast

Roasted pork belly

Last year I roasted a turkey for the first and last time. Not that I didn’t like the finished product, there was just so much of it leftover, and with just D and I, turkey leftovers get a little boring, no matter how you try to dress them up.

This year, D will have to do without turkey, as I have the special present of my parents visiting, and I’m reverting to a family tradition of making roast pork for my family.

I’m lucky to live in Singapore where I have easy access to lots and lots of pork belly, my favourite cut of pork to roast.  It’s such a tasty cut of meat, due to the layers of fat between the meat that seem to almost melt once roasted, just basting the meat in tasty goodness and keeping the meat tender and moist.

A little preparation can also give you brilliantly crispy crackling.  Simply pat the meat dry and score the skin every 1 cm (you can also ask your butcher to do this for you).  A great trick is to use a stanley knife – it’s a bit rudimentary, but it works a treat in giving you evenly deep cuts into the skin without any stress at all.

Coat the entire cut of meat in oil, and then rub a liberal amount of salt into the skin, making sure you get salt into the scores.  Then pop into the fridge, uncovered, for a few hours or overnight if you can.  Both the salt and the fridge draw the moisture out of the skin to ensure a really cracking crackling.

Bring the meat out of the oven an hour or two before roasting to bring it to room temperature.

Brush off the excess salt, and then season the entire cut on all sides, above and below with salt and pepper.

Pop onto a roasting tray, and into a hot oven at 230C for 30 minutes to get the crackling going.  Then lower the temperature to 180C for an hour – an hour and a half if you’ve got a huge piece of pork belly.  Because pork belly is a thin-ish cut of meat, it doesn’t take a long time in the oven, but also because of the layers of fat, it’s a forgiving meat to leave in the oven for longer at a low temperature.

Leave out to rest for at least 30 minutes before tucking in.  This will give you time to make gravy with the juices in the tray.

Haricot vert, potatoes roasted in duck fat, honey-glazed carrots

Serve with roasted potatoes (I’m doing mine in duck fat for a more festive touch – if only I could find goose fat !), roasted onions, garlic, leeks and any other vegetables that you can find in your fridge.


Gingerbread People

Why did I ever think that gingerbread men/women/children are so hard to make ?  I vaguely recall making them years and years ago and haven’t since and I can’t figure out why because I love anything ginger.

I found a recipe from Joy of Baking and started making them tonight.  It’s a very easy recipe that calls for you to make the dough and then resting that dough in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.  As it’s almost midnight, it will mean rolling out the dough tomorrow morning.

***UPDATE

I don’t know why but the dough from the Joy of Baking recipe just wasn’t right – it tasted like a molasses cookie with a hint of ginger, so I made the following adjustments:

1) Doubled the ground ginger

2) Reduced the molasses from 2/3 cup to 1/2 cup

3) Added a good pinch of salt

***END OF UPDATE

Resting dough allows for a few things.  Firstly if you are cutting butter into flour, it helps to avoid the butter getting soft (which is quite quickly in Singapore, even in an airconditioned apartment) and melting into the flour.  You want to keep the butter in flakes so that the pastry becomes light  and airy.  In the case of gingerbread men, there isn’t any cutting of butter, but you do need the dough to rest to allow the glutens which have become “tough” from the mixing, to relax, and means a more soft pastry once it’s cooked.

We’ll see how they turn out tomorrow – I hope it turns out well because we’re taking them to a friend’s place for Christmas lunch !

OK just back from eating and drinking ourselves silly at a friend’s place.  The gingerbread men were a hit !  And they are easy peasy to make.  The recipe (here) makes about 30 10cm men and the 6 1/2 minutes makes them perfectly soft for me – they continue to cook once they are out of the oven.

The hardest thing for me was icing them !  I chose to use confectioners icing but it’s really fiddly to decorate men that are that small.  I ended up using the icing as “glue” to stick mini-M&Ms on as buttons/eyes etc.  I also used syringes which I purchased from the pharmacy because it gave a cleaner, more controlled flow of the icing.  And even then it got messy.  But that’s half the fun of baking, isn’t it ?


Christmas shortbread stars

Christmas shortbread stars

When the tree goes up in our household, I begin to really feel like it’s Christmas and I can get excited about the whole festive season – for me, it’s about family, presents, and eating yummy treats that you don’t get the rest of the year.

It’s also when I make shortbread cookies.  There is absolutely no reason why I don’t make them more often – they are so easy and so much fun to make.  Perhaps it’s because although I tend to like making things where I can get my hands grubby, I prefer to make more savoury things, like pizza dough.

I use a recipe that a friend of mine from Australia gave me, just because of its simplicity.  There are just six ingredients.  Butter, icing sugar, vanilla, salt, plain flour and rice flour.  And because there are so few ingredients, you can really taste the quality of the ingredients you use, particularly the butter and vanilla (read: buy the best you can afford)

Rice flour is added here for added “crunch”.  I’ve read that you can replace the rice flour with cornflour for a more melt-in-your-mouth texture.

This would be a great recipe to make with kids – especially the decorating.

Merry Christmas and here’s to a new year of more eating!

Ingredients makes about 60 6cm stars

  • 250g block unsalted butter at room temperature (you can use salted butter and not add salt but I think unsalted tastes better)
  • A good tbs vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • good generous pinch of salt
  • 2 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 cup rice flour

Method

  1. Cream butter and sifted sugar until light and creamy
  2. Add vanilla and salt and mix well
  3. Stir in combined flours and mix with your hands to combine to a crumbly dough
  4. Turn out on to a sheet of baking paper and press into a ball.
  5. Rollout dough between two sheets of baking paper to about 5mm thick and with a star cookie cutter (or whatever shape you fancy), cut biscuits from dough and place on a baking paper-lined tray
  6. You can decorate before they go into the oven with demerara sugar and silver cachous or after by dipping into melted chocolate (although you may want to temper your chocolate first)

Merry messy Christmas !

My entire family (mum, dad, sister, brother in-law, niece) arrived yesterday in Singapore and we’d arranged to celebrate Christmas lunch at the Hyatt Mezza9 to a) avoid the mad crush of cramming 7 adults in our flat and b) to allow me to enjoy the company of everyone without having to lift a finger in the kitchen.  As it turns out, the table we ended up getting at Mezza9 was so “cosy” that we would have had plenty of space at our place anyway, but would we have had the superb spread of food that we enjoyed today ?  No way.  We’ve also been wanting to try the Christmas brunch since we got here a few years ago.  Comes around only once a year, after all, but we’ve always had last minute changes or we’d tagged along to lunches other people had organised.

It was a full house at Mezza9 today with all the Christmas orphans left in Singapore all champagned up and creating a merry cheer in the restaurant.  The atmosphere really was festive, with some patrons dressing up in Santa outfits and everyone dressed in truly “smart casual” – none of the random flip flops and three quarter length pants that can sneak in on a normal Sunday brunch.

The food was, as usual, stellar, and today we had some festive upgrades – suckling pig instead of just roast pork, chilli crab in the chinese section, turkey (I was sad to see no goose as I would have loved that), ham, roasted pork belly and roast beef, and Christmas pudding.  The pork belly and ham were the winners for me – both were melt in the mouth tender.  For D it was a second helping of smoothly whipped mashed potatoes and delicious portabello mushrooms.

The service was a little slow to start – I think they really struggled to try and seat everyone at once, but once seated, the staff found their groove and soon it was all working like the smoothly oiled machine the Sunday brunch at Mezza9 is.

Queues were long for pretty much everything, but on Christmas day, does that really matter ?  Especially with all that free flowing champagne.  Long live the Sunday brunch !


Feeling Christmasy

All the Christmas specials are on tellie at the moment, and don’t we just love them.  Christmas came early this year with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “A Christmas at River Cottage” and Jamie Oliver’s latest Christmas special.  The entire River Cottage series is just one feel-good episode after another – they always leave us with smiles on our faces.

But last night was Jamie’s Christmas special which showed you what to do with your turkey leftovers.  Now remember I roasted a turkey for the first time this week and there is LOTS of turkey left over.  The winner was a sweet leek and turkey pie – think chicken and leek pie – but Jamie’s tip was to roll our your puff pastry, sprinkle cooked chopped chestnuts and sage over half of it, then fold the non-chestnut bit over and roll it thin again.  GENIUS.

That’s for dinner tonight – will let you know how it goes !

Hmm…I’m not convinced of the pastry – the sage was overpowering (even though I only put a few bits in) and I couldn’t taste the chestnuts…but at least all the turkey’s used up !


Gobble gobble gobble

I cooked a turkey yesterday. For the first time. In fact, I can’t recall when I even ate it last. D has been saying that he misses it for so many years now, and I was at home, so I thought, what better than to spend a whole day cooking ?

It truly is a whole day affair, and people say to get the family involved, blah blah blah, but to be honest, in my house there’s only one cook at a time in the kitchen, so don’t attempt unless you seriously have the entire day.

I have had years of roasting a chicken once a week, so in my mind, it was just a bigger version, right ? Noooo. Turkeys are bred to be lean, and because they are so big, you have to ensure that it doesn’t dry out while roasting.

Essentially, you need to steam the bird until it’s cooked, and then let it brown in the oven at the end.

I really dislike handling raw meat, in particular, poultry, and here they vacuum wrap a lot of their poultry, so that when you cut the plastic open, all these raw juices flow out – it’s really quite horrid. Washing the bird normally gets rid of this and I have to admit I struggled to handle a 5kg bird and it took a LOT of paper towels to pat it dry.

I had a bit of a giggle when I was trying to wash the bird – every cavity I washed there seemed to be something stuffed in there – giblets, the neck, a gravy packet, some string – the bird that gives more !

After waiting for 5 hours for it to cook, the turkey was finally ready – all nicely browned, roast potatoes looked deliciously crispy and it was 9pm so D and I were absolutely ravenous.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I found the meat, although nice and juicy and tender, was lovely with lots of gravy and cranberry sauce, but without, seemed quite flavourless. Guess that’s just turkey.

Would I do it again ? Not in a hurry…it really just is a big b*stard chicken. I can’t believe households do this once or even twice a year !  But this year, I did it.  One less thing to cook in my life … so, Merry Christmas !!