Christmas is Here, Best Time of Year and Semi Fredo!

My French Christmas Tree with an assortment of red and gold decorations collected on our travels

Yes Christmas is here, but I can guarantee that I have NEVER cooked roast Turkey, with all the trimmings. WHAT !! I really find Turkey quiet boring, usually dry, compensated by smothering in gravy, ( and I’m not over fond of run of the mill gravy),along with overcooked Brussels Sprouts, Ugh! Not for me.

No , absolutely not for me. My first Christmas dinner as a wife, I bought a suckling pig, not counting that even though he was a skinny little thing, he was still too big for my oven. Consequently we cut him in half and there he was, little piglet nose pressed up against the glass door, apple in mouth and tears ( juices) running down his face.

In subsequent years, all the time we lived overseas,(30 years) we had a Christmas Eve party ( for all waifs and strays, like us), which meant that I was not about the start all over again the very next day. And so it came about that we had a very different Christmas Day menu, one in which I did not have to spend the whole day in the kitchen. In Texas, Gulf coast shrimp, they call them shrimp,but large, fat and juicy, crawfish, oysters , all the wonders of the Texan gulf coast. One exception to the Turkey was Cajun Turkey. At first thought, it was “ Oh My God”! But deep fried Turkey, the boiling fat seals, the Turkey inside and out, it cooks fairly quickly and is succulent. A word of caution, only cook on a boiler in the garden! ( not much good for a central London Flat !)

This year, as Nickinlaw is allergic to shellfish an amendment to menu was required, hence along with the foods that we love, Parma ham, Serrano ham, Fois Gras and Salmon en croute were added to our menu.

For the real grown ups we had oysters, shrimp, scallops with lardons, potted shrimp, some toasted bread, black bread, wasabi mayonnaise, Carolina reaper sauce ( read very hot sauce) and beurre blanc sauce to go with the salmon en croute.

For dessert, no Christmas pudding as only Himself is a fan, but an alternative mince pie/ tart, nut Semi Fredo and Chocolate crunch.

  • For the Semi Fredo enough for at least 8
  • 4 large eggs separated
  • 100 grams caster sugar
  • 500 mls double or whipping cream
  • 125 grms skinned hazelnuts/ pistachios
  • Some runny honey
  • Grease a loaf tin and line with cling film
  • Put the nuts into a dry frying pan, heat and toss so that become toasted, leave to cool and then chop, but not too finely
  • Put the egg yolks and sugar into a bowl and whisk until thick and creamy
  • With a clean whisk and a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff
  • In another bowl, whisk the cream until stiff
  • Carefully combine the three whisked ingredients using a metal spoon, and then add most of the nuts.
  • Carefully pour into the prepared loaf tin, cover the top with more cling film and freeze for about 6 hours.

To serve carefully in mould, drizzle over some honey and some nuts, if you have remembered to save some ( I didn’t.).

A really nice simple dessert, quick to make. I bought a spring form loaf pan, which actually proved useless for cake making, it leaked, but lined with cling film for the semi Fredo, it worked and therefore was very simple to unmould . ( note the British version of “To Unmould”)

Watch this space for Chocolate Crunch and the Mince Pie Tart.

Indian Venison ( and then Lamb)

Having given Himself a course of Michelin starred ( Atul Kochar, Ex Benares London ) cooking classes for his birthday, somehow or other we/ he got a bit behind. So here we are on lesson #4 having skipped, for the time being #3 which is in the freezer.

Therefore this past weekend was designated His cooking day, which turned out to be Saturday. After his insistence, some Christmas decorations were done and he duly watched the video for his lesson.

On the whole, he is a very diligent pupil only occasionally going a bit left field, having been a scientist he mostly follows rules, but then again doesn’t always engage brain! “Why is my sauce a bit runny?” Um, because you used 750 mls of white wine and not 75 mls ! But, Hey Ho, onwards and upwards.

This week, the menu, was Venison, with mushroom rice, chocolate curry sauce and hispi cabbage. I almost never, in-fact change that to NEVER cook Cabbage, but that is about to change as I absolutely loved this cabbage and have done some research and have found a couple of more ways to cook and serve it.

The package arrived with everything needed to cook this meal Except the cabbage and so it was to my surprise that the following day , it arrived in a separate parcel. My only real complaint about this company ( Banquist) is sometimes for a novice in the kitchen there is a lot of guess work needed in deciphering what exactly is in each of the packets. Whereas the delivery of the Ottolenghi meal from a company called Dispatch, absolutely everything was well labelled or numbered.

For 2 people

  • 250 grams Venison fillet ( and Lamb Fillet or Pork fillet can be used)
  • 1 tabsp oil
  • For the spice coating
  • 1tabsp crushed dried juniper berries
  • 2Tabs Garam Masala
  • Cut the fillets into 2 and wrap tightly in cling film, refrigerate
  • Sauté the juniper berries in a dry pan until they smell wonderful. Tip them out and crush ( use a coffee grinder if need be) and mix with the Garam masala and some salt
  • When ready to cook the meat, heat some oil in a solid pan, roll the meat in the spices and sear on all sides, move to an oven proof dish and cook for about 4-6 mins at 200C (180 fan) Gas #6.
  • Leave to rest covered in foil for 5 minutes)

Hispi cabbage or baby gem lettuce

  • Take one baby gem per person and cut into half
  • or a small hispi cabbage for two, cut into 4
  • Wash drain and dry on paper towel
  • Melt some butter in a frying pan and quickly sauté the cabbage/ lettuce on both sides, then transfer to the oven for about 4 mins to soften, so EASY and yet so NICE.
  • The meat was served with a very nice Mushroom Rice, almost like a mushroom risotto with ooodles of mushrooms and Indian flavours!
  • I think you can make your own version of this rice as Himself found it to be quite time consuming. Use most of the following
  • 2 crushed green cardamom, 1/2tsp each of ground coriander, chilli powder, Garam masala and cumin seeds, a crushed clove of garlic 20 grms or so of butter, and assortment of mushrooms about 200grms ,100 grms basmati rice, 2 onions finely sliced, a dollop of cream and the same of tomato purée.

Boil some water, and pour it over the rice and leave for about 5 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

Melt the butter add the cardamom pods, spices, garlic and onions. Sauté add the chopped mushrooms, sauté until the mushrooms are cooked. Add the cream and tomato paste, stir well to mix. Add the rice stir and keep warm.

This was all served with a chocolate curry sauce, all a bit longwinded but simplification is at hand.

  • You will need
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • A chopped onion and 2 chopped cloves a bit of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp each of ground coriander, chilli powder, turmeric, Garam Masala and cinnamon
  • A tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 40 grams good plain chocolate
  • A litre of stock ( fond de veau, chicken or vegetable)
  • Sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, add the spices and cook for about a minute. Put all in a blender, blitz until a fine paste
  • Add the stock bring to a simmer and add the paste along with the tomato paste and chocolate, simmer gently until it reaches a pouring consistency.
  • Can be made well in advance and reheated gently. I would probably make a much larger quantity, cool and freeze in usable amounts, so it is there whenever it is needed !

He DID Good, it was a very lovely dinner.

Over the river To The Piano Boat we go !

Today, we trekked out of London, albeit not very far. We headed out west on our all too familiar route, where the speed limit starts off at 30 mph and then 40mph, for what seems for ever. Everyone is very compliant, because there are speed cameras, about 12 of them all along the route.

Himself, hadn’t a clue as to where we were headed, it was the Grand Union Canal. The original canal was built in 1810 and had 18, manually operated locks. It now runs from London to Birmingham, for 137 miles and has a mere 166 locks! Some and perhaps many are from the original canal and judging by the state of some of the lock gates we saw today, have to have been.

We have been on the Grand Union Canal before, as part of it is very close to home. There is the Paddington Basin arm, which is about a 15 minutes walk from us. Depending on the route , part of it becomes the Regents Canal and the rest branches off into the Grand Union. Just after one of our Lockdowns #1 daughter rented a small electric canal boat for an interesting but short ride, part of which was on the Grand Union, which then became the Regents Canal ( presumably after the Prince Regent as in The Regents Park)

But why am I rambling on about canals. Simply because we went to a classical concert and brunch on a type of Dutch barge. Not any old Dutch barge but one that was especially constructed and is just beautiful. And on this barge is a hand made Steinway grand piano, which had to be lowered through the skylight!

It is run by the lovely Rihana, piano teacher and now cook ( and deck hand and hostess) and her partner Masayuki Toyama , who is a renowned concert pianist, with Rachmaninov being his specialty. The boat is also called Rachmaninov!

The boat is just beautiful, wooden floors, brass fittings, air conditioning and / or dehumidifiers. As Masa said, the piano requires certain conditions and as such he will arise in the middle of the night to check on his “Baby”.

We meandered along the canal, heading north with Masa and Rihanna, operating the locks, the boat, the drinks, the food and of course the concert! Who handled the boat whilst navigating the locks? Mr. Remote Control of course !

We moored, listened to our concert, and then a lovely brunch prepared and served by Rhiana. After lunch we, decamped and set sail once again, back down the canal, through the locks to their At Home Mooring.

What wonderful different experience it was. There were just 8 of us as guests on the boat but it is possible for private hire for up to 10 guests or for a really really different experience a cruise for just two of you, for 3-6 nights! Will have to think about that one !