Party Food (& Alliteration): Parma Ham and Parmesan Palmiers

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I hope you’ve had a fabulous Christmas… mine was lovely but too short! Now it’s nearly New Years Eve, and if you’re off to a party then I have an easy recipe for you 🙂

These alliterative canapés are very tasty, the combination of parma ham, parmesan, mustard and pastry is very more-ish and quite salty, so they’re perfect with drinks.

They’re not too difficult but look impressive (which is one of the best combo’s in my opinion).

Recipe taken from Red Online

Parma Ham & Parmesan Palmiers

Makes about 40 Canapés

Ingredients

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

6 slices of parma ham

2 tbsp parmesan cheese (plus extra for topping)

dijon mustard

1 beaten egg

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Preheat the oven to 200C. Unroll the puff pastry sheet and leave on the paper it was rolled in (this makes it easier to roll back up later). Arrange so one of the longest ends is facing you. Spread a thin layer of mustard over the pastry, then sprinkle over the parmesan cheese.

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Next, top with the slices of parma ham – they should cover the whole of the pastry sheet.

Starting with one of the long horizontal ends, begin to roll tightly into the centre. When halfway, turn the sheet round and roll the opposite side in until the two rolls meet. Brush the touching bits of pastry with the beaten egg, and pinch together lightly. Roll back up in the paper and put into the freezer for 20 minutes to chill.

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After 20 minutes take out of the freezer and cut into thin slices just under 1 cm in width – this is easier if you flour your knife after every slice. Place the slices onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. If the slices appear a bit misshapen you can coax them back into shape on the baking tray. Sprinkle with a little extra parmesan if desired and put into the oven for approx. 10 minutes or until golden and crispy.

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These are delicious just out of the oven, but are also tasty served cold.

They can be prepared in advance if desired – just make up to the freezing stage and keep until needed.

Palmiers are great, versatile canapés as you can pretty much put any filling in you wish – pesto is another good one, or nutella if you want a sweet version.

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Have a great New Years… See you in 2015!

Christmas Gift Ideas: Last-Minute Salted Butter Caramels

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It’s entirely possible (and preferable), that anyone reading this is doing so snug at home, relaxed and ready for Christmas with the presents all wrapped, the food all bought, drinks all chilling in the fridge… if so, I salute you and you can keep that smug smile on your face for as long as you like!

If you’re a present or two short, or you want that homemade touch without bags of effort then I hope I can help. Firstly, who doesn’t like salted caramel? Or homemade sweets? Secondly, these homemade salted caramel sweets are quick and pretty easy to make (if you keep an eye on them), and they only need a couple of hours to set, so they can be made this evening or tomorrow morning and be ready in time for Christmas day. Thirdly, they are made from things you probably have lying around the house anyway – the only exception possibly being a sugar thermometer*.

*In which case, a jar of salted caramel sauce would also make a nice present for someone – just follow the recipe until the sugar thermometer goes in, and instead, cook on a medium heat for another 3 minutes, then pour into a jar or bottle.

So without further ado, I give you:

Salted Butter Caramels

85g granulated sugar

100ml double cream

40g butter

30ml honey

1/2 tsp salt (plus extra if desired)

You will need a sugar thermometer and a loaf tin (or equivalent) for this recipe

Recipe taken (and adapted slightly) from A Beautiful Mess via Rachel Khoo

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Line a loaf tin or square tray with baking/greaseproof paper and set aside – this will be what the caramels set in. Put the sugar in a medium saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a medium/high heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble. Keep cooking the sugar syrup until it turns a dark amber colour (see photo above). This can take a few minutes but the colour/smell can change quite quickly so keep an eye on it and take it off the heat as soon as it looks ready.

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Once you’ve taken it off the heat, add in the rest of the ingredients – the mixture will bubble up and may spit at you so be a bit careful! When stirred in, put the saucepan back on the heat and add the sugar thermometer. Heat the mixture until the temperature on the sugar thermometer reaches the ‘hard ball’ stage (260F). As soon as the temperature hits 260F remove from the heat and pour into the prepared loaf pan or dish you are setting the caramels in. If you wish, you can add some more flaked sea salt to the top of the caramel.

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Let the caramel cool for a couple of hours before cutting into squares or strips and wrapping in baking/greaseproof paper. I found cutting with a greased knife made it a smoother process.

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And Voila! You have another tasty little homemade gift for someone 🙂

Here’s a photo of my salted caramels and Limoncello/Arancello bottles ready to be given to family this Christmas!

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All that remains is to say:

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Because if a clown and hoop la-ing pigs doesn’t say Merry Christmas, what does?!

Quite Easy Mince Pies

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I’m typing this with the mixed scents of freshly baked mince pies and pine trees in my nose, and the sound of Otis Redding singing ‘White Christmas’ in my ears… it’s safe to say I’m finally feeling Christmassy 🙂

Buying a real tree has definitely helped this year, although we misjudged the size of the tree versus the size of our living room, and now can’t really see the TV. Oh well, the tree is prettier!

If you remember, a while back I posted a recipe for homemade mincemeat – now it’s time to make the mince pies. I make these mince pies every year, and they always get good comments – the pastry is very short which makes them lovely and crumbly, and obviously the mincemeat is delicious 😉

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They’re not the most professional-looking mince pies, but they make up for that in taste.

The recipe they come from calls them ‘unbelievably easy’ mince pies, and although they aren’t rocket science, I would say they aren’t as easy as the title would have you believe – that’s why I’ve called them ‘quite easy’! There’s no need for a food mixer, just your fingers, and the pastry doesn’t need rolling out, just pressing into the trays – this makes them easier (and fun for kids to do), but they do take a while to assemble because of this however, and when trying to make the lids by just squashing them in your palms, there are invariably some cracked lids when they come out of the oven. I ended up rolling out small amounts of the pastry for the lids as I could control the size/thickness of them better that way. I also had half a packet of sweet shortcrust pastry left in the freezer which I used for some of the lids, this meant I could make 24 mince pies instead of 18. (Don’t judge me for cheating slightly!)

They are ridiculously tasty, so without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Recipe taken from BBC Good Food

‘Quite Easy’ Mince Pies

Makes approx. 18

Ingredients

225g cold butter, diced
350g plain flour
100g golden caster sugar
280g mincemeat
1 small egg
icing sugar, to dust

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For the pastry: Put the cold cubed butter and the plain flour into a large bowl and rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. (It’s good to have cold hands for this bit!) Add the golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt, and combine well.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

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Lightly grease a cupcake tin (or 2). As the dough is pretty dry and doesn’t have egg or water added to it, I find it easier to knead a small amount at a time, rather than all in one go – a walnut sized piece is enough for each mince pie and a good amount to knead at a time. When pliable, push each ball of dough into your cupcake tin with your fingers.

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Now it’s time to add the mincemeat – about a teaspoonful is a good amount.

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Next, either roll out a small amount of the dough (after kneading briefly) and cut out circles for the lids – a 68mm cutter is perfect, or form a circle from squashing a small ball of the dough in the palms of your hands until it’s the right size (it’s good to have warm hands for this bit). Top the mince pies with their lids, pressing down at the edges to seal – you don’t need to seal them with anything as they’ll stick fine on their own. Brush each mince pie with some of the beaten egg, and put into the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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When ready, take out of the oven and allow to cool for at least ten minutes in the tin, they’ll be easier to take out once cooler. When removing from the tin, you may need to trim the edges of each hole, and ease the knife down the side to help release the pie – they should come out easily after this. You can trim the pies after removing them too, to give them more of a uniform shape. Leave on a rack to cool down completely (if you have willpower…)

NB: The mince pies without the cracked lids are the shop-bought pastry tops.

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When ready to serve, dust liberally with icing sugar and make a pot of tea – or some mulled wine. Delicious!

I have plans for one more last-minute Christmas gift idea before the big day, but in case I run out of time…

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Gift Ideas: Limoncello and Spiced Arancello

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It’s two weeks to Christmas! I’m trying my hardest to get into the festive spirit, but it’s taking time this year – I wish I had time to make more presents and sing carols and eat mince pies, but it’s all being crammed into evenings at the moment, when I actually just want to flop on the sofa… This weekend we are buying a real Christmas tree which I think will help me get into the festive mood – I’ve always had an artificial tree, and been fine with it, but this year I want the scent of pine to lift my mood and make me feel Christmassy!

One Christmas gift I’ve squeezed into an evening or two this year, is some Liqueurs – Limoncello and Arancello. Limoncello is an Italian sweet lemon liqueur, and Arancello is the orange version. The Arancello has the added flavours of cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom to give it a spicy, almost mulled, flavour. I’ve made the Limoncello before and it was a success, but the Arancello is  new to me so I’ll be interested to see how it tastes.

They’re both made with vodka (again), as it’s the spirit with the least flavour, lemon or orange peel, and sugar syrup.

They take two weeks to make, so you’ve just got time to whip up a batch for Christmas day! (If you want to give them as presents before Christmas day, remember to put a ‘best after’ label on them…)

I bought one litre bottle of vodka and made half-and-half of these, but I will put the amounts for each recipe down as though you’re just making one or the other, then you can choose what you do!

Recipes taken from BBC Good Food here and here.

Both make approx. 2 litres of liqueur.

Limoncello

1l bottle vodka

5 unwaxed lemons

750g caster sugar

700ml boiling water

Spiced Arancello

1l bottle vodka

5 large oranges

1 cinnamon stick

2-3 cardamom pods

1 vanilla pod

600g caster sugar

500ml boiling water

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Remove the zest from the oranges or lemons using a peeler, try to make sure none of the white pith is left on the peel as it will make the drink taste bitter. You might need to scrape this off with a sharp knife.

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Put the zest into one big jar, or several smaller ones if giving to multiple people. If making Arancello, add the cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla pod also. Add the vodka to the jars/bottles and leave for a week, shaking the jar each day.

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After a week, you can add the sugar syrup. Put the sugar in a heatproof jug, then pour over the required amount of boiling water, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into the vodka mixture and leave for another week, shaking the jar regularly.

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When the two weeks is up, strain the liqueur into your bottles, and throw away the peel (and spices). These drinks will keep bottled for 6 months, but I doubt they’ll last that long!

Limoncello is delicious ice-cold from the freezer, but I suspect the Arancello would be nice warmed up… I’m looking forward to trying them 🙂

El Celler de Can Roca Part 3: The Land

And now it’s time for the meat courses!

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This plate was a bit of a cross-over dish: ‘Surf and Turf’. It looked like a piece of sardine, but that was a cunning ruse to make you think you were still on the fish courses. It’s actually pork jowl, with sardine skin, a charcoal-grilled sardine-bone broth, suckling pig sauce and chervil oil. It was ridiculously beautiful to look at, with the shimmering sardine skin and the pink of the jowl – i’d like a clutch bag in similar shades 😉 The pork jowl is a very fatty cut, but it worked well with the sardine, and the sardine flavour wasn’t strong enough to overpower the dish which was great.

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Another ridiculously pretty plate (slab?) of food – ‘Spicy mandala of artichoke flower, milk-fed lamb belly, lamb sweetbreads, curry yoghurt, beetroot, spinach, turnip, lemon, tangerine, sweet potato, leaves and flowers’. That is a bit of a mouthful for a dish that is only a little bigger than a mouthful! Mandala is actually the pattern made by this dish rather than an ingredient – it’s a hindu and buddhist symbol representing the universe. The lamb in this dish was melt-in-the-mouth, and it was nice to have lots of different flavours to combine and eat it with – a bit like the skate dish earlier in the evening.

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This next dish was the OH’s favourite of the night – ‘Veal shin with St.George’s mushrooms, marrow, tendons, avocado and truffle’. The main thing I thought whilst eating this was ‘the ultimate roast dinner’. Ok so it was missing some roasties, but it had that rich, comforting taste to it that I associate with a good roast dinner – and a bit of earthiness too. I know it says tendons on the menu which could put people off, but I’m guessing it was in a puree because I couldn’t see anything resembling a tendon! Plus, I adore bone marrow, and truffles, so it goes without saying this dish would be enjoyed.

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‘Pigeon trilogy’

This last meat course probably would have been my favourite, but I was getting pretty full by this point so it was hard to thoroughly enjoy it. Despite this, one part of it did blow me away a bit. The full description of this dish is: ‘Pigeon heart and the cloud of rice, pigeon stock. “Botifarró” and Tatjé pigeon breast. Botifarró is blood sausage, and the pigeon ‘heart’ was actually pâté made to look like a heart (on the black slab). The pâté was the best I have probably ever tasted – so velvety, smooth, rich – utter deliciousness on puffed rice. The rest of this pigeon dish was equally rich, and almost as delicious. It was served with a small amount of pigeon stock in a glass, and the wine that came with this course was from 1986! (Pesquera Janus 86 D.O. Ribera del Duero). This felt pretty decadent.

In the next (and final) instalment, find out what we had for dessert, and if we managed to get out of our chairs at the end of the night…