Friday, 27 December 2013

N is for New Year


Christmas is done! So happy.  Eaten far too much (as usual) and had much fun and many laughs.

Today is a furious day of activity as we have one set of guests leaving and the next couple of days will see the next set descending.  I love it!

And I'm turning my sights towards New Year's Eve.

So I'm digging out my various clocks from around the house to dot around the dining room, and printing Auld Lang Syne sheet music as the backing for A5 menu cards that are placed on people's places to keep everyone to my seating plan.

Am also dusting off the board games in case there's any time between the meal and midnight when we mark the occasion with fireworks in the garden, wave around sparklers and toast each other with champagne around the patio heater.

And the menu's designed to auger in the brand new year and is broken down into more courses than usual to keep it relaxed and keep people at the table as long as possible.  This year sees:
  • Roast Leg of Lamb
  • Potatoes Boulangère (with finely sliced fennel added)
  • Mixed Greens (Kale, savoy cabbage, de-skinned broad beans, peas)
  • Cheese course (Brie, Comté and Stilton with grapes and crackers)
  • Petits Fours (bought in) 
The lovely thing about ALL these dishes is that I can prep them all in advance and they don't take much stove time on the night so I can enjoy being with guests.  Depending on how energetic I feel I can make OR buy in the stuff. This is why the menu includes the chicken liver mousse, the crostini and the Petits Fours.

Last, but not least, I'm just need to print off my quiz which I use before the meal to get everyone's brains into gear after sofa slobbing so much in the last few days and kick off the table conversations.  Fingers crossed that no-one reads this before I hand it out on the 31st!

Monday, 16 December 2013

H is for Ham

If there is anything you do because you've read this blog, this should be top of your list.

This for me is a life saver over the festive period.  

It provides for continental breakfasts, sandwiches for my ever-hungry step-sons, chunks for pea and ham soup, and even a dinner when it first comes out of the oven.  And if I do have any left (and this is unusual) then I slice up the remaining joint into really thick slices and freeze it between layers of greaseproof paper to use as needed.

  • The largest joint of unsmoked gammon that will fit in your biggest pan
  • 1 large bottle of full sugar cola (no need for a brand)
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped into quarters
  • 1 carrot, scrubbed and snapped into two
  • 1 stick of celery, cleaned and snapped into two
  • 150gms packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tblspns English mustard
  • 2 tblspns whisky / bourbon / orange juice

  1. Put the ham (still in its net) in a pan and cover it with cold water.  If it doesn't quite then it's fine
  2. Bring to the boil on the stovetop
  3. Once it's boiled, drain off the water and make sure that there is no remaining puffy scum left on the ham or in the pan
  4. Replace in the pan and if necessary pack out with the onion, celery and carrot.  If they don't fit in the pan, it's not a problem
  5. Pour over the cola to cover the joint* and bring the pan to the boil again
  6. Once it's boiled, turn down the temperature to have the liquid simmering as gently as possible
  7. Leave to simmer for 40 mins per kilo MINUS 35 mins. You may need to top up the cola every now and then.  If you run out of cola, water is fine
  8. In the meantime, line a baking tray with multiple layers of tinfoil so it doesn't tear (this is important)
  9. At the end of the simmering time, heat up your oven to 240°C
  10. Take the ham off the stove and leave to cool for 10 mins so as to be able to remove the net
  11. Skewer the ham through the middle in a cross using two BBQ skewers otherwise the ham will unfold during the oven time.
  12. Mix the sugar, liquid and mustard together until it is completely smooth and there are no lumps in the sugar (otherwise these will burn and cause unsightly black spots on the rind)
  13. Put the ham carefully into your lined tin (taking care not to tear the foil with the skewers), rind side up and score into a diamond pattern / stud with cloves as desired (I never bother)
  14. Spoon over the glaze making sure all the outer surfaces are coated
  15. Put the ham in the oven for 35 mins
  16. Take out and leave to cool^ before moving the ham onto a carving plate and pulling out the skewers
  17. Fold up the tin foil around the now black/burned sticky glaze in the bottom, bringing the edges together to form a tight parcel that won't see any of the glaze leak out. Lining the tin means no washing up...and trust me...trying to get off that burned glaze is quite a task
  18. Once cool, you can leave the ham in the fridge covered with a foil tent for up to 10 days, carving slices/chunks off as needed
* If your ham is taller than your pan then rotate the ham while it's simmering to ensure the ham cooks throughout.
^ It's at this point that I will often carve off a couple of generous slices and serve with Mac'N'Cheese or a poached egg and chips depending on how I'm feeling for dinner for two.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

D is for Decorate

Each year sees me expand my collection of Christmas decorations.

This is partly because each year I want something different, something new to greet guests.  But also because I am really quite the shopaholic.

But I do try to buy quality items though that will last as I recognize that I will (a) run out of space to store all these decorations at some point...probably quite soon...and (b) my husband will run out of patience with me...almost definitely sooner.

This year's purchases include:

These darling little birds from Frolic & Cheer courtesy of, which I will clip onto the tree with all my other little birds.

These metallic glass pine cones from M&S, which I bought in store as their online service is pants.

And these apothecary jars via Etsy which I will fill with sweets, brightly coloured baubles and the trinkets from Christmas Crackers past that otherwise clutter up cutlery drawers, bedroom drawers, random places around the house etc. 

Did you buy anything new?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

S is for Sinterklaas

Tonight and tomorrow will see the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas or the Festival of St Nicolas.  He's seen as being the original Santa Claus. although today the Dutch celebrate the 5th and 25th.

Boating it over from Spain with at least one servant, Zwarte Piet, in tow, to arrive by mid November, it's not until the 5th December that he fills the shoes of little children (who will have strategically left them outside their bedroom door as they go to bed) with sweets and small presents.

And the adults aren't forgotten either.  Colleagues, family and friends often give each other big chocolate letters of the first letter of their first name.

And there are always plenty of Kruidnoten (small, round gingerbread-nut cookies) around to snack on.

What a nice tradition for us to copy!