Chef, Christmas, Cookbooks, Cooking, Recipes

Looks aren’t everything when it comes to Christmas Trees, especially the chocolate variety!

I can’t believe it’s 9 years ago since I did the 12 week course in Ballymaloe Cookery School! After the stress of the exams and as a parting gift Darina gave us signed copies of her Christmas cookbook.

A Simply Delicious Christmas

In my enthusiasm I decided that straight away I had to make the cover recipe – the Chocolate Christmas Tree.

I have two memories of this experiment:

  1. Why did I try ? – it was incredibly fiddly and I think my language may have deteriorated over the process! At that stage I was still insistent on boiling and peeling almonds and hazelnuts…….
  2. That it was a very expensive tree and my family did not fully appreciate my efforts!

So why 9 years on did I decide to try again? Well I thought I could try a child friendly version so with my junior chef visiting for the weekend I set to………

We melted 300g of chocolate (200g milk and 100g dark) with a  packet of mini marshmallows and then the junior chef stirred in masses of rice krispies – no quantities I’m afraid but you need enough to use up the chocolate. At this point I should say the constant question was ‘may I lick the bowl now?’

I had marked out parchment paper with 8 crosses for the tree branches – 7cm, 9cm, 11cm, 13cm, 14cm, 15cm, 16cm and 17cm. The engineer in me loved this bit and even dug out my scale rule to make sure all measurements were accurate. The junior chef took the opportunity to make a Christmas card for her parents.

I laid the chocolate mix out along the axes and the junior chef decorated each branch with candy snow and stars

Junior Chef at work
The upper 'branches'

Then came the tricky bit – assembling the tree! We let the branches set and then having covered a large plate with tinfoil I melted some more chocolate, put a little on the plate to hold the largest branch in place, Then I added the branches in descending size, making sure that each alternate branch had it’s arms between the arms of the bottom branch (like a real tree!!)

Assembling the tree

We  ‘glued’  each branch in place with the melted chocolate – this is where my nerves got a little fraught as some of the branches drooped. Darina suggests supporting the branches with matchboxes until they set – I only have a large box of matches for candles so that wasn’t an option!

I should point out at this stage the junior chef was very busy – licking the bowl!!

The best part - licking the bowl... and the spoon!
Snow Mountain

We finished off the decorating with melted white chocolate, sparkles and mini snowmen….but at this stage between falling branches and sneaky tastes by the junior chef we decided to rename it a chocolate mountain!!

It's a tree honestly!

Nana came to visit for tea as did the Junior Chef’s Daddy who came to collect her and her baby brother aka Taster No 2!

The cake may not have looked like the one on the cover of Darina’s book (as Junior Chef pointed out!) but I’d just like to say that there’s very little of it left!

Maybe, just maybe, I might try another tree before Christmas………..

Happy Cooking!

Catering, Christmas, Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Recipes

An alternative to Turkey?

When I was researching recipes for last Christmas I came across this recipe in an old Christmas magazine (I think it was Good Food) – I didn’t get a chance to try it at the time but I have used it for dinner parties during the year and it’s divine!

Definitely an option for Christmas dinner if you don’t want to go the traditional route of turkey and ham…..

 Fillet of Beef with Mushroom Stuffing

This will feed 6 people very comfortably with a bit left over for later! Rule of thumb I use is 8oz beef per person – this allows for any shrinkage in cooking (and demonstrates my ongoing inability to work solely in metric!)

What You need:

  • 1.5 kg Fillet of beef
  • 25g dried porcini
  • 300g wild mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 25-50g butter
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • tbsp chopped thyme leaves

What You Do:

  • First thing to do is make the mushroom stuffing: soak the dried mushrooms in 250ml of boiling water for about 20 mins. Then remove mushrooms  from the liquid and finely chop. Strain the soaking liquid and set aside for your sauce
  • Heat butter and a little olive oil in large frying pan (the oil will prevent the butter burning)  and cook shallot and garlic for 3-5 min, then stir in chopped porcini and cook for 2 mins.
  • Add chopped mushrooms and thyme.I usually add a dash of Madeira at this point too!  Cook for 10 mins until lightly browned and any liquid has evaporated. Season to taste.  Leave to cool.
  • Now for the fun part – you need to open out the fillet of beef so you can stuff it : About 1/3 of the way down the thickness of the fllet make an incision from the right almost to the end. Then make a second incision  a 1/3 of way from bottom of fillet, this time from the left again not cutting all the way through. This allows you to open the meat out into one flat piece. (I hope my description makes sense!)
  • Spread the mushroom mix over the surface of the meat then roll it up tightly  like a swiss roll. Tie it with string to hold the shape. You can leave in fridge overnight if required.
  • Heat oven to 200 C/180 Fan/Gas 6.
  • Sear the rolled fillet in roasting pan with oil and butter.
  • Then transfer to oven to cook

Rare 20-25 mins

Medium 35 mins

Well Done 45 mins

  • You can add some shallots to roast around the beef and add some extra whole mushrooms about 10 mins before the end of cooking time.
  • Make sure to rest meat  for about 10-15 mins before carving.

Madeira Sauce

Use up all the yummy bits left in the roasting tray to make a sauce:

  • Put tray back on hob and stir in 1 tbsp cornflour, and pour in 3 tbsp Madeira (you can use Brandy either but it’s safer not to pour directly from the bottle!).
  • When madeira is almost boiled away add in the reserved mushroom liquor and 400 ml beef stock.
  • Cook for about 5 mins, srain and then stir in about 100ml cream and cook for another few minutes. Season and add some chopped parsley.

We  served the beef in a steak-sized slice on a bed of celeriac mash with the sauce spooned around the mash and on another occasion with caramelised beetroot and green beans.

Fillet of Beef with Mushroom stuffing with Madeira Sauce, Green Bean Bundle and Caramelised Beetroot & Shallots

This is the only picture I can find of the dish and I apologise for the poor quality of the image but believe me it is an amazing dish  and worth the effort!

I wonder if I could persuade my family to change from turkey this year………

PS thanks to @Murpheroo on twitter for reminding me of this great recipe!

Catering, Chef, Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Christmas Canapés

I make a lot of canapés – both for business and home entertaining. This year I’ve been asked for easy canapé ideas at my cookery demos so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites. I hope you like them!

Mini Tartlets

I used to make my tartlets from filo pastry – a rather long process but I came across the idea for these on holiday last year and they have made my life much easier!

To make the tartlets you need….

You need a mini-muffin tray, a packet of wonton wrappers, some sunflower oil and a pastry brush – brush each wonton sheet with oil and mould it into the muffin tin to make a small case. (This is much easier to demonstrate than explain!)

When you’ve filled the mini muffin tray sprinkle the cases with a little salt and bake at 200 C for 4 mins. Allow to cool on a wire rack and then use or store in airtight container for up to 4 days.

This is what your end product should look like:

Mini Tartlet

The possiblities are now endless….Some fillings I use are:

  • Avocado & crab topped with some créme fraiche and dill mustard
  • Red onion marmalade and Cooleeney  brie (put in oven for minute or two to soften the cheese)
  • Prawn cocktail
  • Thai beef salad
Crab & avocado tartlets
Red Onion Marmalade & Cooleeney Brie

Sticky Christmas Sausages 

This is another great recipe from my favourite Christmas book ‘Nigella’s Christmas’  and the best thing is that they can be prepared in advance and frozen  – just put mix and sausages in plastic bag and take out of freezer a few hours before your guests are due!

What you need:

  • 2lbs cocktail sausages (approx. 60)
  • 125 ml sweet chilli sauce
  • 60 ml cranberry sauce
  • 60 ml soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar
  • Juice of 1 small orange
  • Juice of 1 lime

 What you do:

  • Mix together all the ingredients except the sausages to make glaze
  • Put sausages in foil tray (much easier than cleaning a roasting tray!)
  • Pour glaze over sausages and mix to coat.
  • Cook for 20 mins then turn and cook for another 10 -20 mins until they’re hot and sticky.
Sticky Christmas Sausages

Smoked Salmon/Trout Wraps

This is another quick and easy idea which doesn’t really need a recipe!

Smoked Trout Wraps

What you need:

  • Tortillla wraps (I find the Discovery ones the easiest to roll!)
  • Some Goatsbridge Smoked Trout  or some Smoked Salmon
  • Cream cheese

What you need:

  • Simply ‘butter’ your tortilla wraps with the cream cheese
  • Place strips of trout or salmon on the cheese
  • Season with a little black pepper and lemon juice then roll into a ‘tube’
  • If you have time wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to set but otherwise trim the two edges, cut wrap into three then cut each piece into two diagonally (again this is much easier to show!)
  • Other fillings which work are roasted peppers, parma ham, pesto……..

Happy Cooking!