Christmas Ham Salad (for when it’s all become too much)

christmas ham salad

Happy Christmas! Full yet? Boxing Day is probably my favourite food day of the year – no pressure, no rules, no timescale (and in my cottage you will now have been wearing pyjamas for about 36 hours), just grazing and making magic happen with leftovers.

This year we’re on quite a frugal budget so we opted for a big smoked gammon on the bone for Christmas dinner, it cost just £10 and will feed us for well over a week. I simmered it in cola and pickling spices for a couple of hours yesterday before glazing it with rose hip jam and a mix of fiery English and sweet wholegrain mustards before blasting it in the oven for 20 minutes to caramelise.

What with the rich indulgence of yesterday still heavy in my stomach I fancied something altogether lighter with at least some sort of nod to freshness and health. I threw together this salad that not only used up some of the ham but also commandeered some of the leftover mustard and dill sauce from our homemade gravadlax to make the perfect dressing.

The sweet and salty smokiness of the ham, the sour cranberries, fiery rocket leaves, earthy crunch of toasted almonds and the drizzle of dill dressing ticks all the right boxes for me with this salad. Pile it high on a platter and let everyone dive in.

Ingredients:

  • rocket leaves
  • cucumber, thinly sliced
  • leftover smoked ham
  • pumpkin seeds
  • dried cranberries
  • orange zest
  • toasted almonds
  • dill and mustard dressing

I used Azelias Dill Sauce recipe as inspiration for my sauce and cobbled one together using what I had to hand:

  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon English mustard
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch Halen Môn smoked sea salt flakes
  • roughly 200ml Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil (it’s wonderfully nutty)

Just put the first 6 sauce ingredients into a blender or processor with the sauce attachment fitted and blitz then drizzle in your oil in a slow stream, taste and adjust seasoning and add more fiery English mustard if it needs it.

For the salad:

Just throw everything together and drizzle with the dressing then sit back and drink a nice glass of wine and put your feet up.

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Chocolate and Cardamon Butter

Best breakfast ever

This butter is just all kinds of wonderful.  If you only do one thing this weekend, make this butter and spread it all over hot croissants! My recipe is here. Enjoy!

Pig’s head terrine with edible flowers and crispy pig’s ear scratchings

Whilst the process of making pig’s head terrine (also known as brawn or head cheese) may not be for the squeamish, sometimes in order to make something beautiful you have to get your hands dirty.

The idea of combining pig face with flowers is not simply a visual one. Although using the violets does make it look very pretty I wanted to use the flowers of herbs such as sage, thyme, chives and parsley to create little bursts of intense herbal notes through the dish.

I had a look online for various recipes, but none of them really worked for me in terms of flavour so I turned to Fergus Henderson‘s Nose To Tail Eating as a rough guide and decided to make it up as I went along using whatever I had to hand in the veg rack and garden.  £3.30 worth of meat from the butcher made 2 big terrines. Bargain.

Washed thoroughly and in the pot ready to go

My butcher provided me with 1 split pig’s head (£3) and 2 trotters (30p).

Ingredients:  Makes 2 terrines

Stock pot:

  • 1 pig head
  • 2 trotters
  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 1 leek, cut in thirds
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 2 onions, quatered
  • 2 bulbs garlic, halved
  • handful of fennel seeds
  • tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 6 sage leaves
  • stems from a bunch of parsley
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • handful dried sliced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lapsang souchong strands

Then:

  • bunch of chopped chives
  • chopped parsley
  • chopped fennel fronds
  • saffron strands
  • chive flowers
  • sage flowers
  • thyme flowers
  • parsley flowers
  • violets
  • Halen Môn salt flakes
  • freshly ground pepper

Method:

1: Rinse the head and trotters thoroughly and remove the ears (if you are making the crispy pigs ear scratchings) and clean the wax out (I have a little brush that’s only reason for existing in my kitchen is to clean the wax out of severed pigs’  ears) then put in a massive pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil, lots of scum will rise to the surface. Drain of water, refill pot with fresh water, add the rest of the stock pot ingredients and bring to a simmer.

Head, ears and trotters at the bottom then veg and spices added

2: After about 2 hours remove the 2 ears and set aside to dry thoroughly.  Continue to simmer the head and trotters for about another 2-3 hours or until the flesh is starting to fall away from the skull.

3: Remove the head and trotters and set aside. Strain the stock through a sieve ( I usually do it a few times) to remove all bits and return to the pot and reduce by about two thirds. Taste and add salt and saffron.

4:  Remove meat from the head.  How much of the head you use is entirely up to you.  I only had 2 terrines to fill so used the meat and skinned the tongue and used this too but some use the snout and fat also.Chop your meat and combine with chopped herbs and black pepper.

5: Line your terrines with cling film and place a few violets and chives on the bottom.  This will of course become the top, it makes it look pretty. Add your meat then fill with reduced stock. Bang the filled dish against the worktop a couple of times to get rid of any bubbles and make sure your stock gets to the bottom. Cover with cling film and chill overnight to set.

6: The following day just gently turn it out, admire your amazingness then make some toast, slather it in butter and top with your terrine.

Pig Face and Flowers version 1 with less flowers

Crispy Pig’s Ear Scratchings:

These are seriously good! Once the ears were cooked in the stock I just treated them as I would when making regular pork scratchings.  Just whack the oven on full, make sure the ears are completely dry (they will be really sticky though) then using sharp kitchen scissors cut them into strips and put on a grill tray over a roasting tin, sprinkle with Halen Môn salt, cook until crispy and serve with a kickass dip.

Next time I make them I will probably braise the ears in a chinese broth first if I’m not making a terrine at the same time.

Dip:

  • Chopped coriander
  • chopped mint
  • chopped chilli
  • 1 red onion, microplaned
  • 2 cloves garlic, microplaned
  • Thai fish sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Filipino spiced vinegar
  • lime juice
  • Tony’s Ginger and chilli sauce

BBC Radio Leicester and Melton Mess

Cooking on the radio you say? Well yes indeed! Last Friday morning I had the pleasure of the wonderful Ben Jackson from BBC Radio Leicester being in my tiny kitchen at Wyldelight Cottage.  I had been practicing the art of not swearing for 2 days and was still a bit nervous until it dawned on me in the middle of the night before that yes, I could practice not swearing, but the art of “not sounding like a total twat when nervous” has always eluded me. I’ve always done it at the most inopportune moments too, normally when in the vicinity of really handsome men (throw a uniform in there and I go from sounding a bit like a twat to talking full blown nonsensical rubbish!

Luckily we had a good half hour before we started recording just catching up and talking food, that ALWAYS relaxes me and puts me at ease. I wanted to keep the recipe really simple and decided to do something in real time so listeners could see just how easy it all was.  I made my Melton Mess with Vanilla Sea Salted Caramel Sauce, it’s outrageously good too and the recipe will feature in this months Great Food Magazine which is out tomorrow. There is lots of cream, custard, strawberries, meringue and yes plenty of salted caramel sauce involved! There weren’t any disasters; I didn’t swear, I did get very excited about what I was making, I probably sounded like a bit of a twat but all in all it went really well and I will have a regular slot each month!

You can click here to listen, I start from 1 hr 41mins in, and you can tell I’m smiling the whole time as you can hear my lisp (lisps are all kinds of sexy you know!).

Melton Mess with salted caramel sauce

Ingredients:

  • About a dozen or more large strawberries
  • 2 tblsp caster sugar
  • 520ml double cream
  • 1 large meringue base or 8 meringue “nests”
  • 250ml good quality vanilla custard
  • salted caramel sauce

Method:

  1. Slice about two thirds of your strawberries and put them in a bowl, sprinkle over the caster sugar, give them a stir and leave to macerate whilst you get on with the rest of the dish. Keep the remaining strawberries to one side for now.
  2. Using an electric mixer whip the cream until it’s firm, be careful though as it’s very easy to over whip double cream and it will start to separate (and you could accidentally end up with butter!).
  3. Crush your meringues into pieces, don’t make them too small, as you want different textures to run through the dessert, then stir them into the cream.
  4. Pour your custard and macerated strawberries and their juice on top of the whipped cream and very gently fold in. You don’t want it to be all mixed in completely, just folded carefully so you have pools of strawberries and custard amongst the cream.
  5. Carefully tip the mixture onto a big serving platter, scatter the strawberries you had set to one side over the top then drizzle liberally with the salted caramel sauce. Have the pot of caramel on the table so people can help themselves to more, I warn you though: this sauce is highly addictive!

Vanilla Salted Caramel Sauce:

  •  120g soft light brown sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 tblsp water
  • 260ml double cream
  • 2 tsp Halen Môn Vanilla sea salt flakes

Method:

  1. Put the butter, sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently until bubbling it’s important that you don’t stir it though just swirl the pan to combine.
  2.  Once it’s all melted, let it bubble away for 3 minutes then whisk in your cream and remove from the heat. Add a teaspoon of salt flakes, taste to see if it needs any more (careful though it will be hot).  It will seem very runny but it thickens as it cools so make several hours before if you want a firmer sauce and pop it in the fridge.

I sent Ben off with a goodie bag of amazing local foods that are really overlooked in Melton.  There is such a big focus on the pork pies and stilton cheese that the other little known producers just get left behind.  This weeks goodie bag is a selection of my favourite things that I buy in Melton and not a pork pie or slice of stilton anywhere!

  • Blackberry vinegar from Bridget at Melton Sunday market
  • Smoked sausages – Grasmere farm (Tuesday market)
  • Smoked wild boar bacon – Paul aka The Roosterman (Melton Market Tues, Fri, Sun)
  • Homemade butter – Maria (Tuesday market)
  • Smoked middle bacon Derek Jones Butchers Melton (the BEST ever!) Plus a slice of their brawn
  • various jams/chilli sauce/chutney from my good self as I was spoiling him!

The next goodie bag will be equally as good and I have no idea what I’m going to cook yet but I’m really excited already!

Soda Bread

Straight out of the oven

I had a really crap night last night so this morning I decided I needed cheering up and what better to cheer the soul than freshly baked bread.  I turned to my new favourite baking book Bread Revolution by The Thoughtful Bread Company for Patrick’s recipe.  Marvelous, I thought, I have all of that except the red wine vinegar so out came the big bowl, in went the dry ingredients (including the wonderfully coarse Whissendine organic wholemeal flour) and then I realised we were almost out of milk. Arse.  I did however have Buttermilk in the fridge that I was saving for scones so I used that instead and swapped red wine vinegar for some Womersley Golden Raspberry and Apache Chilli vinegar.

Whilst mixing the sloppy dough (it’s meant to be that way) I realised that my loaf tin was out on loan so ended up adding extra flour so that the dough could be shaped and baked without a tin.  I then kicked myself for ONCE AGAIN starting a recipe without checking to see if I had all the ingredients and equipment (another reason I don’t really use recipes or bake much!).

Luckily it turned out really well, if a little more crumbly than it perhaps should have due to my substitutions but oh my it tastes so good! It has absolutely cheered my morning and I can now see soda bread being a much welcome and more frequent addition to the table. I used to eat quite a bit of soda bread as a kid, my Dad is Irish and so it was almost a staple loaf of the bread bin but for some reason I have just kinda stopped eating it, until now that is.  Next time I am going to try Thoughtful Bread‘s recipe to the letter though and you never know, I might even check to see if I have everything I need before ploughing in!

Note: I don’t get paid for posts or links, I support great producers because they are wonderful and I want people to know about them and try their fantastic products and thats why I link, share the love!

Wild Pollen and Jerusalem Artichoke Veloute

Someone said that the difference between Twitter and Facebook is that whilst Twitter makes you realise that there are loads of like minded people out there, Facebook makes you realise how different to you most of your friends are.  One of my favourite things about using Twitter is connecting/following/stalking/getting inspired by other people who share the passion for food as I do and I recently was introduced (on Twitter obviously) to @GlobalHarvest01.  I had planned on finding him at the BBC Good Food show but got somewhat waylaid by Compass Box Whisky and things were a little fuzzy after that. So, David Mason from Global Harvest being incredibly passionate about his wild pollens and being a really nice chap sent me a sample of each of his Wild Fennel and Wild Dill pollens to play with.

I have always been a fan of using the flower heads of fennel and dill in my cooking but had never thought about just using the dry pollen which has the really pure, intense flavour of its plant. Having virtually mugged the postman for them this morning (and scaring an elderly neighbour who was just posting a Christmas card through our letterbox)  I fancied a Jerusalem Artichoke veloutè as the experimental vehicle as I wanted to play around with some other ingredients too.  I decided upon the following core: Jerusalem Artichoke veloutè, Sweet Chestnut Honey, Truffle oil, the Fennel and Dill pollens.

For the veloutè I used:

6 very large Jerusalem Artichokes

1 pint chicken stock

3/4 pint milk

knob of butter

salt and pepper

Peel and chop the artichokes (pop them in lemony water to stop them turning brown whilst doing this) then add them to a pan with a knob of butter and sauté gently until soft and starting to caramelise. Add the chicken stock, and milk, bring back to just boiling then remove from heat and using a stick blender puree until all the artichoke lumps have completely gone, pass through a sieve then season to taste and blend again this time making sure you get plenty of air into the mix and the liquid is light and frothy. Thats my really simple version anyway.

Then the fun of playing with the different flavour combinations.

Truffle and wild Fennel pollen, Sweet Chestnut Honey and Dill pollen, Fennel, cream and Mustard cress.

I tried quite a few different variations of the 4 toppings to the earthy, frothy loveliness of the veloutè, for me the winners were the Truffle oil and Fennel pollen and the Sweet Chestnut honey drizzle and Dill pollen.

So that was today’s experiment. David assures me that the Fennel pollen is incredible when combined with a chocolate ganache so will be having a play with that too and the Dill pollen is screaming out for a cured salmon partnership so thats on the list too as is a gin based cocktail!

Sprats

Sprats are one of our most underrated fishy treats and whats even better is they are ridiculously cheap (about £2.99/Kg) which really appeals to me!

Sprats are so easy to prepare, just cut behind the head from the backbone almost all the way then pull your knife and the head away to the side and this will then pull the small amount of innards out.  No worries if they don’t all come out you can still just slit the belly and remove that way. Then just coat in seasoned flour, dip in beaten egg then into breadcrumbs and deep fry.  They are so small they only take about 30 seconds.

Serve with some homemade Tartare Sauce, crisp green salad, a wedge of lemon and a glass or two of chilled white wine. A Cheap, easy and bloody lovely supper.

Xmas Cake

Made my Xmas Cake today. When it comes to Xmas cakes I go by Delia’s rule of equal flour, butter and sugar. Todays mix:

16oz each of organic white flour, butter and soft brown sugar and 8 organic free range eggs. Cream butter & sugar, whisk the eggs then add to creamed butter mix gradually. Once all mixed fold in the flour and a couple of pinches of salt.

To this I then add whatever I have in the pantry. Today included handfuls each of chopped prunes, figs, sultanas, walnuts and stem ginger (and a glug of the syrup). A tablespoon of treacle, then the spices: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg/mace are my favourites at Xmas. Grated zest of an orange and lemon and then a few tablespoons of last years extremely boozy mincemeat.  The sugar and booze have preserved it and it is now the most luscious mincemeat ever.  Its ridiculously boozy and contains, as far as I can remember, brandy, rum, port, whisky and some more sloe brandy for good measure. The flavours have had a whole year to develop and mellow together and it is going to be in most of my Xmas concoctions this year.

Butter then line the cake tin with parchment, pour in the cake mixture then stick on the bottom shelf of an oven heated to 140C for about 4 1/2 hours or however long it takes until a skewer comes out from the cake clean. Leave to cool in the tin then wrap in parchment then tin foil and transfer to whatever container your going to be keeping it in (I use a big metal biscuit tin) and feed with brandy as often as you like until Xmas, I usually feed it about once or twice a week.

Preserved Lemons

All you need is a sterilised jar, unwaxed lemons, rock salt and whatever seasoning you fancy. I used a few bay leaves, peppercorns and a few juniper berries. Just slice the lemons into quarters but don’t cut all the way down to the bottom. Squeeze it open and put some rock salt inside. Pack into the jar squashing as you go and adding your salt and seasonings, as you squash the juice will come out. Once the jar is full top up with extra lemon juice and salt and seal.  Leave at room temp and gently agitate for a few days then leave for about 6 weeks. Dead easy.  When you come to use them discard everything but the pith and skin which will be lovely and soft, rinse really well then chop and add to your dishes. They are wonderful in taffies and also make a really great instant pickle to accompany your curry.

the salt will do all the work now