things that i’ve learnt over the festive season…

APOLOGIES for my recent absence. Between cooking and planning travels abroad time seems to have bolted past so fast that I can’t believe my Ode was posted way back when in November days!

During this expanse of time however, I have learnt many things. Culinary things. And so I thought I’d share some of them before the excitement of their discovery disappears…

What I have learnt pre, during, and following the festive season is as follows:

  • Adding a teaspoon or two of ground toasted caraway seeds to homemade savoury shortcrust pastry makes for a wonderfully subtle flavour twist when making tarts (try a cheese-y / potato-y combination, or sauteed mushrooms with smokey sausage).
  • Authentic Chinese flavours are easier to achieve than you think. Make a delicious warming broth from the following base, bulking it up with your choice of vegetables / fish / meat / noodles.

– Soak dried mushrooms in warm water for at least half an hour. Drain, reserve liquid and add it to 500ml of stock. To this add 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tbsp dry sherry, chilli (to taste), a small cinnamon stick, a strip of orange peel and one star anise. Heat, and allow to infuse for a few minutes whilst simmering. Add mushrooms and other ingredients of your choice. Serve, with a drizzle of sesame oil if available.

  • MAKE YOUR OWN PATE. Seriously. It was a revelation; and my greatest culinary achievement so far – despite being ridiculously easy to make.

– Follow Nigel Slater’s Chicken Liver and Mushroom Pate recipe and add in chestnuts as I did for an extra dimension to the texture and taste. And definitely pass the pate through a sieve. This is the slightly labour intensive part, but totally worth the effort – especially if like me you don’t have a proper blender!

  • Pimp up homemade sausage rolls by adding in chunks of black pudding, and coating the sausage meat filling with honey and ground cumin before wrapping in puff pastry and baking. Pork and cumin works. Well.
  • Don’t be scared of HERRING ROES. Yes, the soft little beige slivers that old people purchase from the fish counter. Available at Waitrose or any good fishmonger they are wonderfully cheap and delicious to boot.

– Blanch some soft herring roes for 20 seconds in boiling water and gently remove them, plump and jiggling. Heat butter until very hot in a large frying pan. Dust roes in flour, cayenne pepper, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fry in butter until lightly crisp and golden. Remove. Wipe down pan and add anchovy butter made by mashing salted anchovies with unsalted butter. When butter is hot, return roes to pan for about 30 seconds to thoroughly coat. Serve roes immediately on toast, with fresh lemon juice and any remaining anchovy butter drizzled on top.

  • A good winter pudd such as this Bakewell ‘Cake’ will be irresistible to even the biggest pudding skeptic. You will need the following: shortcrust pastry, a jar of good quality raspberry jam and a mixture made of the following: 250g ground almonds, 250g caster sugar and 6 beaten eggs, combined.

– Blind bake shortcrust pastry in a springform tin (approx 21cm diameter). Thinly coat pastry with some of the jam, top with the almond mixture, then swirl spoonfuls of the remaining jam throughout the topping. Sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake at 190c for approximately one hour. Cake should be almost completely set; with a very slight wobble allowed. Serve with a tart berry sauce; custard; creme fraiche; or all of the above.

And finally…

  • Rowntree’s Raspberry Jelly makes for a surprisingly popular dessert. Especially when served as a ‘starter’ to the main pudding. Custard on the side optional.

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