Sunday, 21 December 2014

Salmon Stir-Fry with XO sauce

I found an ingredient for Alphabakes beginning with X! XO sauce is a spicy seafood sauce that originates from Hong Kong; you cnn make your own, but apparently you need dried scallops, Jinhua ham, dried shrimp and canola oil, which I don't think would be very easy to source in the UK - or you can buy it ready-made in a jar from Tesco.

According to Wikipedia the name comes from cognac - extra old, which is known as XO. I know from my previous incarnation as a drinks writer that high end western spirits are very popular in Asia and Wikipedia says that XO came to denote high quality, luxury products. So I guess that XO sauce is supposed to be a luxury item - looking at the list of expensive ingredients I can understand why that is!

I had a look online for a recipe and they all seemed to be variations on a basic stir-fry. Most of the recipes I found suggested using chicken but I thought the seafood flavours in the XO sauce would work really well with salmon, and I was right. You can use any stir-fry vegetables and I have to admit cutting a few corners and buying a packet mix, which included beansprouts, cabbage and carrot. I used scissors to chop a piece of salmon into chunks.

Heat a little oil in a large frying pan or wok then add a teaspoonful of the XO sauce and stir around the pan. Pour in about 50ml fish stock or water. Then add the veg and stir-fry until softened. Add the salmon chunks and add another dash of water or fish stock if desired. Stir-fry until the veg and salmon is cooked through.

Serve, and enjoy! This was the first time I have tried XO sauce and I really liked it so will see what else I can do with the rest of the jar.

I'm sending this to Alphabakes, the blog challenge I host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter I have chosen is X.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Festive Eggnog Cheesecake

At Thanksgiving I saw these boxes of eggnog in Tesco (below). I've never tried eggnog but remember Penny from the Big Bang Theory drinking it straight from the carton ("It stopped being eggnog like a half hour ago. It's pretty much just rum now"). I thought it would be great to use in a dessert so just after Thanksgiving I went back to the shop, only to find none on the shelves.
I asked someone and he went on a mission into the stock room to track some down, leaving me standing in the world foods aisle for what felt like ten minutes - but that was handy as I spotted an ingredient beginning with X I could use for Alphabakes! When the Tesco worker finally came back with a box of eggnog, he told me it cost £6 - which I thought was pretty steep, but I hadn't realised it was imported from America, and given the effort he had put in to get me one, I felt bad just putting it back on the shelf so I decided to buy it!
I thought that both the flavour and texture of the eggnog would work really well in a cheesecake, and I love cheesecake at any time. I found this recipe on Taste of Home which I followed, but substituted digestive biscuits for Graham crackers (which are pretty much the UK equivalent). I also left out the rum extract as I thought a child might be eating this (I served it as part of a pre-Christmas meal with friends), even though you can get non-alcoholic rum flavouring, as I wasn't sure that she would like the taste. 
I blitzed the biscuit crumbs in a food processor, mixed with the melted butter and pressed into the bottom of a loose-bottomed cake tin. I baked it in the oven and allowed to cool as instructed.

Mixing the cream cheese, sugar, flour, eggs, eggnog and nutmeg:

Poured into the cake tin. It only just fit without over-spilling!

I baked the cheesecake in a water bath in the oven as the recipe described. Several cracks appeared on the top of the cheesecake but I think it still looked OK.

It came out of the tin perfectly and has a really good ratio of filling to crust.

This was an incredibly creamy cheesecake and seemed lighter than baked ones I have made before - it was really delicious. I didn't think I could particularly taste the eggnog but would have said instead it had a strong vanilla flavour, but my boyfriend said he could taste the eggnog. I think this would be a great dessert around Christmas time or Thanksgiving.


Friday, 19 December 2014

Vegan Christmas Dinner: Filo Vegetable Parcel

When I had my school friends over for a pre-Christmas dinner I made this turkey wellington; one of my friends is vegan so I made an alternative (I knew there were people present who wouldn't like any kind of vegan dish so there was no one-dish-suits-all option!). Of course, this is something that could be - and was - enjoyed by meat eaters as well. It's a filo pastry parcel containing roasted vegetables and would be a good option for a vegan or vegetarian Christmas dinner, or any regular dinner time really!
I based it on this recipe from the Food Network for a roasted vegetable strudel with red pepper coulis, but I didn't make the coulis due to lack of time and too many other things to cook at the same time, so instead served this with an orange sauce which was a lot quicker to make - some orange juice, cornflour and a little sweetener. I also forgot to add the tomatoes that were supposed to into the pastry parcel, as you roast the other veg first and add the tomatoes at the end - again I blame too much going on!
First roast a selection of vegetables - wintery ones are particularly good, though I included asparagus as that was in the recipe and I felt it added a little luxury, even though it isn't strictly asparagus season. First I roasted some sliced butternut squash, as I knew this would take longest, then added some carrot batons to the pan. In a second small pan I roasted sliced courgette, mushroom and asparagus spears. I roasted the veg in a little oil so the filling of the pastry wouldn't be dry.
 Don't forget to season the veg.

After roasting the veg, allow to cool. It's at this point you are supposed to add the tomatoes but I forgot! Place some sheets of filo pastry (I used the ready-made kind) on top of each other and spoon on a selection of the vegetables, then roll up the pastry like a strudel. I made two of these as you can see below.

Preheat the oven if necessary (if you roasted the veg in advance for instance). Bake the pastry parcels in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

Here you can see where I have cut the pastry in half. Each one of these parcels would serve two if there are side dishes to accompany, otherwise you could serve a whole one per person.

Here's a close-up of the filling. Have you made anything like this before, and how did it turn out?

I'm sending this to the Vegetable Palette challenge, hosted by Shaheen at Allotment 2 Kitchen, as the theme this month is festive veg.

Shaheen is also running the Eat Your Greens challenge, asking for entries featuring any green veg, so I am sending this to her for that challenge as well.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Turkey Wellington

I had some of my school friends over for a pre-Christmas dinner last weekend which was great fun - we had Christmas crackers containing whistles, that were numbered and sounded at a different pitch, and came with a songsheet so we attempted to play some Christmas carols, which was very funny.
I was planning to cook dinner for 9 people - my biggest dinner party ever, but now we have a new house there's a lot more room - but unfortunately one of my friends was ill so she and her husband didn't come.  When I was planning the food though I knew I needed to cook something that would feed a lot of people (aside from one vegan, as I made something different) and wanted to do a turkey as it was Christmas. But I wasn't sure how big a turkey I needed to feed 8 people, and didn't want to faff around with all the side dishes. I also didn't want to cook the exact same thing they would all be eating about ten days later!
I had an idea for a turkey dish that would be a one-pot meal (with some easy side dishes), go quite a long way and also not cost as much as a whole turkey - turkey wellington. I had a look online to see if I could find a recipe and was immediately taken with this turkey, brie and cranberry wellington from BBC Good Food. Mine didn't turn out anywhere near as pretty as the picture and I wasn't convinced by the brie in the middle - rather than melt, it held its shape and took on a bit of a rubbery texture. I wonder if there is another cheese that work better in this, though brie is quite Christmassy. So if you decide to give it a go, let me know what you think! Overall it was a really nice dish, a change from roast turkey but still very Christmassy. You could make this at any time of year and you could also make smaller portions - maybe individual wellingtons- with chicken breasts.
I bought a large turkey breast from Ocado and cut a slit in the middle, into which I spooned some cranberry sauce and then an entire wedge of brie. You also need to preheat the oven to 180C.
I used ready-made puff pastry to save time. I did make my own stuffing from sausage meat, adding sage, onion and breadcrumbs. I found it easier to roll out the pastry and spread the stuffing over the centre of the pastry than to put the stuffing onto the turkey breast.
I also found it easier to cover the turkey breast with two pieces of puff pastry and join them around the sides by rolling over the edges, rather than trying to wrap it in one huge piece of pastry. I finished the pastry with an egg wash (a beaten egg, brushed over, to help it brown) and then covered with foil as it went into the oven, as I didn't want the pastry to cook too quickly. I followed the packet instructions for the turkey and I think in total it took about three hours to cook.

Here it is when it came out of the oven.

The wellington was easy to slice and you can see the cheese and cranberry in the middle. One thick slice was plenty per person; I served this with roast potatoes and a selection of vegetables, and of course gravy. The turkey breast I'd bought had been cured so it fell apart easily; the texture was likened by one of my friends to slow-cooked ham!
It made a great centrepiece for a pre-Christmas dinner and was suitably festive without being exactly the same as what my friends would be eating on December 25th, so I was really pleased with it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Candy Cane Chocolate Hearts

I saw these on the internet when I was looking for edible gift ideas and thought they were just brilliant. I already had candy canes from making my peppermint bark and had quite a few left over. All you need in addition is chocolate and a few sprinkles; these are so easy to make and really pretty.

Place a piece of greaseproof paper on a flat baking sheet or chopping board and arrange the candy canes so they make a heart shape. Make sure both ends are touching and you have no gaps - though my candy cane moved slightly as the chocolate set, leaving a gap, and it was still fine!

Melt some chocolate in a bain marie or microwave - you need about 50-60g of chocolate per heart I would say but I wasn't measuring (and I expect candy canes come in different sizes).

Pour the melted chocolate into the space inside the candy canes and add any sprinkles that you like - I had some snowflake sprinkles which I thought worked really well.

Place in the fridge for about an hour to set.

I packaged them up in festive bags to make edible gifts. You could also thread some ribbon through the top and hang these on your Christmas tree, providing your tree isn't near a radiator or the chocolate will melt!


I'm hosting Alphabakes this month (it's Ros from the More Than Occasional Baker's turn again next month) and the letter is X. We are allowing Christmas recipes so I'm including this.
I'm also sharing these candy cane hearts with Treat Petite, hosted by Kat at the Baking Explorer and Stuart at Cakeyboi, as they also have a Christmas theme this month.
Finally I'm sending these to Tea Time Treats; hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Jane at the Hedgecombers, it has a lovely theme this month of glitter, sprinkles and shiny stuff. The snowflake sprinkles should mean this counts.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - Week 51

It's almost Christmas! I don't actually have that many social events planned but am expecting to be quite busy this week generally - though I have already wrapped all my Christmas gifts! In fact it's been a manic few weeks where I have been ill and really busy at work and had friends over at the weekend so it will be quite nice for my boyfriend and I to just be able to relax this last week before Christmas!
Monday – burger and chips as my boyfriend likes that sort of thing and I haven't had it for ages
Tuesday - turkey schnitzel I kept meaning to make and not being able to!
Wednesday – Out at a colleague's leaving drinks and our work Christmas do
Thursday- my boyfriend is out this evening so I will have a chicken stir fry
Friday - sausage and mash with rest of sauerkraut from Tuesday for me
Saturday -
lunch- cheese on toast
dinner - my boyfriend wants to go and see the new Hobbit film; we might be better off having dinner at home beforehand as I think restaurants will be very busy! I will do something fairly quick and also that is one of his favourites - chicken fajitas.
Sunday – We are thinking of inviting our neighbours (the whole street - though there are only 13 houses as it's a small mews) round for a Christmas drink and mince pie, if we do I won't want to make too much mess cooking lunch or dinner! So my boyfriend could have a bacon sandwich which he is always keen on and I might make the butternut squash pasta that was on a recent menu plan which I didn't do.
Dinner - depending on what time people leave, I could make a quick chicken curry or do the meatball pasta from the mealplan last week which I didn't do as I was working very late, providing I don't have pasta for lunch.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Hot Chocolate Dippers - edible Christmas gift

I made a selection of edible gifts for my friends who were visiting just before Christmas and last year saw a few bloggers made these hot chocolate dippers; this year I've also seen them on sale in shops and thought how much cheaper it is to make your own!

The idea is simple- a block of chocolate, perhaps flavoured, on a stick that you use to stir a mug of hot milk. As the chocolate melts, your hot milk turns into hot chocolate!

You can make the dippers any shape; filling an ice cube tray with melted chocolate is a simple approach though I would recommend you use a silicon ice cube tray or you may have trouble getting the chocolate out!

I used these mini sweet moulds I bought a while ago from Lakeland; I ordered them from the website and they were smaller than I thought so I hadn't found anything to use them for yet. They were perfect for these chocolate dippers!

After you have melted the chocolate and added any flavouring, such as peppermint essence or if you are brave, a few dried chilli flakes - pour it into your mould. Place in the fridge for a few minutes and before the chocolate is hard but when it has begun to set a little, insert your stick. I used a cake pop stick which you can buy in most places quite cheaply these days (eg Poundland) but you could also save and wash ice lolly sticks if you plan that far ahead!

Return to the fridge until set then package up attractively to give as a gift.

As I mentioned these are cheaper than the shop bought ones and make a nice low-cost gift I am sharing them with Credit Crunch Munch, hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

I'm also sharing this with Treat Petite, hosted by Kat at the Baking Explorer and Stuart at Cakeyboi, as they have a Christmas theme this month.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Candy Cane Peppermint Bark

I bought this peppermint bark mould from Lakeland in the January sale and have had to wait until now to use it! I had a group of four schoolfriends, plus two husbands and two children, over for a pre-Christmas get-together and I thought it would be nice to give them edible gifts as going home presents, as it meant I got to try out some festive recipes!

This mould is really easy to use and it has instructions on the back. What I would point out though is that it says to melt 100g of chocolate - I think this must be for one piece of bark and the mould you can see allows you to make two at once, as I needed just under 200g of chocolate to fill both.

First melt some milk or plain chocolate, pour into the silicon moulds and leave to set in the fridge.

Meanwhile bash up some candy canes - I used two per piece of bark. When the dark chocolate has set, melt some white chocolate and spread over the top, and sprinkle over the crushed candy cane pieces. Return to the fridge to set.

It's easy to remove the chocolate from the moulds Here you can see both sides - the 'merry Christmas' wording is very clear on the chocolate side, and the candy cane side looks very pretty.

I packaged them up in some festive gift bags I got from Amazon and tied them with ribbon. I think they look quite cute!


I'm hosting Alphabakes this month (it's Ros from the More Than Occasional Baker's turn again next month) and the letter is X. We are allowing Christmas recipes so I'm including this peppermint bark.
I'm also sharing this peppermint bark with Treat Petite, hosted by Kat at the Baking Explorer and Stuart at Cakeyboi, as they also have a Christmas theme this month.
Finally I'm sending these to Tea Time Treats; hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Jane at the Hedgecombers, it has a lovely theme this month of glitter, sprinkles and shiny stuff. The crushed candy canes sprinkled on top look quite glittery!