Christmas Ham

My parents-in-law always say they don’t want anything for Christmas, so I tend to make them edible treats and this year is no different.

Along with a batch of sausage rolls – without any spice – I whipped up a Christmas ham for them.

I always get my gammon from the butcher, that way I know it has a good rind on it. Do not remove any ‘netting’ around the meat, as this will hold the shape for you. Start by allowing it to soak in moving water for at least 2-3 hours, then pop the meat in a saucepan to slowly boil. You can use water, but I like to use apple juice or cider to give the meat a nice flavour. Cover the ham completely with your chosen liquid and add a few cloves and a cinnamon stick, put the lid on the pot and leave it on the lowest heat for 2-3 hours. Keep checking to make sure you still have enough liquid in there.

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Test the meat with a serving fork and when it’s cooked, transfer the meat to a board and carefully cut off the rind, leaving a good amount of fat. Remember it will be hot, so take extra care.

Now, score the fat to make diamond shapes across the top of the joint and pop in a roasting dish – I line mine with foil for less washing up!

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Pour over some runny honey and stud the diamonds with cloves for a pretty finish. You can do a mix of honey and mustard, a fruit jelly, such as quince or even apricot jam for the glaze – play and have fun.

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Now pop in the oven at 180C for around 20-30 minutes to allow the glaze to get a nice colour on it. I take it out every 10 minutes, just to baste again with any glaze that has melted off and to make sure it doesn’t burn.

You can serve his hot or cold.

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Lamb & Apricot Stew With Dumplings

It’s certainly the weather for winter warmers. I’ve seen friends posting that snow has arrived in parts of the UK and where I am, it is freezing today.

With that, I wanted to share a lovely lamb stew, that I cooked up the other day. I must apologise that we were so hungry, I completely forgot to take a photo of it on the plate all served up, but if you make it, you’ll see for yourself!! This is best made the day before you want to eat it.

I found some really lovely looking lamb neck in the butcher, so I started by just browning the meat in the bottom of a deep saucepan, before removing it to a plate and adding some oil to the pan, followed by a couple of small chopped red onions, three cloves of minced garlic and a chopped leek.

In a frying pan, dry roast a cinnamon stick and three cloves for round a minute or so, just to help release the flavour, then add them into the pan with the softening veggies. Stir in a good splodge of tomato puree, before returning the meat and any juices to the pan, along with two bay leaves.

Pour in enough chicken, vegetable or lamb stock to cover the meat and bring the pan to a low simmer, before putting the lid on. Give it a good hour or so, stirring occasionally, before throwing in some chopped mushrooms and covering again. I let mine have a slow cook for around 3-4 hours, stirring every now and then and checking to make sure there was still enough stock in there. To help thicken the sauce, I added a few teaspoons of cornflour and mixing it in well.

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Once the meat is nice and tender and trying to fall off the bone, turn off the heat and leave the stew to cool overnight. The next day, you’ll notice a layer of fat on the top of the stew, which you can skim off quite easily with a spoon.

Add in a tin – yes, a tin! – of apricot halves and the juices and re-heat the stew to a low simmer again and give it another hour or so to heat through properly. At this point, I like to remove the bones, spices and bay leaves. Mum always added the tinned fruit, so I’m sticking with it!

When you have 20minutes left, mix up 250g self raising flour with 140g cold butter, cut into cues and a good handful of mixed dried herbs. You want the mix to resemble breadcrumbs, before adding a splash of water and mixing together with a table knife. Keep adding splashes of water, until you form a sticky dough. Take small pinches and roll them into balls, before popping them in the top of the stew for your dumplings.

You can either serve just with the dumplings, or boil up some rice and have the stew with that – or even some mashed potatoes.

Pickled Red Cabbage

Firstly, apologies, as I should have had this post up several days ago, but things have been crazy.

My Christmas preparations continue, with my pickled red cabbage now happily maturing in the cupboard.

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I board a lovely red cabbage from a farm shop and shredded it thinly, discarding any really tough bits near the stalk and popped it in a colander and generously covered with salt. I allowed that to sit overnight, before rinsing off the salt the next day and patting the shredded cabbage dry.

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A heated some standard malt vinegar with pickling spices and some soft brown sugar, stirring until the sugar melted and tiny bubbles started to appear in the vinegar, but didn’t allow it to boil.

Once the vinegar was cool, I packed the cabbage tightly into jars and topped up with the vinegar. For added protection, I topped each jar with clingfilm before tightly closing them.

They should have a good five weeks to mature ready for Christmas – now I just need to do the onions! It’ll be perfect for cold meats and cheeses.

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Crafty Time

Tonight, I’m taking some of my crafts along to my partner’s dance club. It’s the first time I’ve done taken my crafts out in public for sale for several years. I used to do it fairly regularly when I was younger, but then work and life just got in the way.

With Christmas coming, I’ve been working on some more Christmassy bracelets with the Loom Bands that I’ve recently started using.

I will also have my semi-precious gem bracelets with me, along with some that are more aimed at children, made with colourful dice beads.

It’s also time to drag out my handmade cards too.

I’m a little nervous about starting this up again, but at the same time, I’m quite excited! So, fingers crossed, that things get off to a good start for me!

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Chicken Curry

My other half does enjoy a curry, the only difference is he can take a lot more spice than I can, as I’m a wimp! But, I thought I’d give a chicken curry a go this week.

Now, I did start out with measuring spices – yes, I do own measuring spoons – but, then that kind of went out of the window.

First, I finely diced an onion and cooked that in a wok with some oil until it was nice and soft, before adding a couple of teaspoons each of ground ginger, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, medium curry powder, along with two finely chopped cloves of garlic and freshly ground black pepper. After letting them cook for a bit, I added a squeeze of lemon juice and let everything get to know each other for a while, before adding in two diced chicken breasts and allowing the meat to take on some colour.

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When the chicken was about halfway cooked, pour in a tin of coconut milk and a touch of garam masala and allow to simmer. For a touch of texture, I added some chopped almond – just half a handful, as I didn’t want to overpower it.

Taste the curry to see if you like it and add anything extra you think it may need. In a separate frying pan, heat a little oil and add some mustard seeds and roasted cashews. Let them fry to put some colour on the nuts and the seeds will start popping.

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Serve the curry with rice and top with the cashews and mustard seeds. We also had naan bread and poppadoms for our homemade takeaway.

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Sweet & Sour Chicken

Feeling in the mood for something Oriental, I whipped up a simple sweet and sour chicken for dinner last night.

It’s really easy to do.

Dice up two chicken breasts (a breast per person), and add to a wok, which is already heated with coconut oil and cook. Partway through cooking, add some chopped peppers – colours of your choice – and if you fancy it, slivers of carrots.

Meanwhile, put some rice on to boil, I just used basmati, but you can use whichever rice you like the most.

In a jug, add the juice of a tin of pineapple chunks, a good generous squeeze of tomato ketchup (yes, you read the correctly!), a good dash of white wine vinegar and some honey and give it a mix. Taste to see if it’s to your liking and add more of whatever you think it needs until you are happy. I also added a little cornflour slurry (cornflour mixed with water) to help thicken the sauce.

Add the sauce to the wok and give it a good stir to make sure the chicken and veggies are nicely covered. Allow to bubble until the rice is done then throw in the pineapple chunks right at the end.

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Serve and enjoy!

Pickled Onions

It’s pickling time in my kitchen. If there’s one thing my other half loves, it’s a pickled onion and they’re so easy to make.

I either use shallots or baby red onions for my pickled onions. I just grab a few bags and see how many I can fit in the jars I have at home.

Start by peeling your onions, pop them in a colander and generously sprinkle with salt. This helps to draw out excess liquid from them. Cover them with a tea towel and leave, preferably overnight. In the morning, rinse the onions thoroughly to remove the salt and pat dry with kitchen towel.

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Sterilise your jars – I use as hot a water as I can stand, with washing up liquid and allow them to dry in a warm oven – just don’t put any rubber seals in the oven as they won’t thank you. Once your jars are dry, pack in as many onions as you can and then top up with vinegar – this will be your measurement for how much vinegar you need.

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Pour the vinegar – without the onions! – into a saucepan, add pickling spices and a touch of sugar and heat, but do not boil. Just allow the sugar to dissolve.

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Then return the vinegar, complete with spices, to your onion jars, carefully – remember it’s hot – and seal the jars tightly. Set your jars aside for a good two weeks before opening, but longer is better. Once open, keep your onions in the fridge.

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I love preserving food, whether it’s jam, chutneys or pickles and one of my favourite books for inspiration is this River Cottage Handbook: