Saturday, 27 October 2012

Roast Ham and an Orzotto with the leftovers

My paternal grandparents always ate their Sunday lunch on the dot at 12pm. They would then eat cold cuts and salad at teatime, I imagine every week for the whole of their married lives. My parents always had a less structured approach to mealtimes and what we ate and thus so do I. Recently, though, I seemed to have fallen into a routine on Sundays. Breakfast is usually a mid-morning heartier brunch compared with the rushed bowl of muesli, slice of toast or boiled egg eaten mid-week. This gives me lots of time on Sunday morning for a little lazy kitchen tinkering and slow-roasting in between reading the newspaper. 

Increasingly, I also look to my Sunday joint to work harder and provide the family with hearty, tasty meals in the bleak midweek. Here I feel we are harking back to the traditions of my grandparents which are quite different from my own mother's approach. At the Sunday dinner table, she will (forcibly) encourage the eating of second and third helpings because she 'doesn't do leftovers', whereas I see them as a challenge to think up new recipes to make the leftover meal as exciting in its own right as the foundation recipe from which it hailed. 

Last week, my husband picked up this ham at the shop for our Sunday roast. I like ham but I would always pick up lamb, pork or chicken first. My husband loves ham, it reminds him of his grandmother's; she would serve it with simple boiled potatoes, peas and parsley sauce. Here, though, I decided to roast my ham with cider and apples and serve it with honey and butter roasted autumnal vegetables - I hope not too disappointingly. The leftovers lasted us the week in the form of the orzotto below, a minestrone soup, pasta with beans, peas, ham and pesto, and last (but certainly not least) delicious ham sandwiches slathered with English mustard. Each dish as delicious as the first.

Cider Roast Ham

2 kg. gammon joint
250 ml. sweet cider
1 onion
3-4 garlic cloves
3-4 bay leaves
Olive oil

Soak your gammon joint in water overnight to remove some of the saltiness. Drain off the water and pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 190°C . Peel and slice the onion into rings. In a frying pan, melt a knob of butter with a glug of olive oil and soften and lightly caramelize the onion slices. Place the onion in the bottom of a roasting tin or large casserole that fits the ham snugly. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and bay leaves. Place the ham on top of the onions and garlic, and pour the cider over the ham. Rub the ham with olive oil and season with pepper. Cover with a lid, if your tin has one, or use tin foil if not. Roast for 1 hour 45 minutes. 

After this initial cooking time, remove the lid, pour the cider and ham juices into a saucepan with the onions and garlic cloves. Skim the fat from the top of the cider juices and mix the fat with a couple of tablespoons of the cider juices and the honey. Use this to baste the ham from time to time during the remaining roasting time. Return the ham to the oven, lid off for a final hour of roasting.

For a delicious gravy remove the garlic cloves from their skins and blend them into the stock with the onions. Then take out some of the stock and thicken it with a little cornflour, leaving enough to make the delicious orzotto below.

Ham & Cabbage Orzotto

Enough for 4.

200g. pearl barley
1 litre of simmering ham or chicken stock
50 ml. of cider
150g. shredded ham
100g. cavolo nero (savoy cabbage or kale)
1 onion
2 garlic cloves

Olive oil & butter
A handful of parsley

Dice the onion then melt a knob of butter with a glug of olive oil in a saucepan or casserole with a lid. Add the onions and soften, this will take about twenty minutes. Crush the garlic and add it to the saucepan and soften for a couple of minutes. Follow with the barley, stirring for a couple of minutes and coating with the butter, oil and onions. 

Add the cider and boil down until almost all the liquid has disappeared and then add the stock. Cover with a lid and simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour the barley should have softened but still have a little bite to it and most of the stock will have been absorbed. Add the cabbage and the ham and cook for a further 8-10 minutes until the cabbage is tender. Taste and season with sea salt (you will not need this if you used the ham stock, it is plenty salty) and pepper. Serve garnished with the parsley.



Saturday, 13 October 2012

Chocolate Orange Brownies

Yesterday was a chocolate day. I came home from work feeling tired, cold and somewhat bruised, figuratively and literally (walking into desks is a professional hazard for a clumsy teacher). Sometimes, chocolate is the only thing that will comfort and soothe. I could have just raided the chocolate bar stash but I find pottering in the kitchen calms my mind and some light work in the kitchen was a welcome distraction from my aching feet. I had also volunteered to make some cakes for a charity coffee morning. Brownies are the simplest of baked goods and on a chocolate day the melting gooeyness of a brownie is an added salve. What's more they're a speedy solution to volume baking and need only a sprinkling of icing sugar as an adornment.

Most often, I am a brownie purist; all chocolate, no nuts or flavourings. However, on occasion, I am tempted by a subtle citrus note. This often happens around Christmas time, recreating the nostalgia of a Terry's Chocolate Orange. The urge came on a little early this year.

These brownies never last long in our house but if your household can demonstrate more dietary restraint than ours, these brownies will last for a couple of days in a tin. Enjoy, V.

Enough for a 20cm square tin

2 medium sized oranges
200g. dark chocolate
200g. butter 
3 eggs
200g caster sugar
100g. plain flour

Put the two oranges into a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Simmer for 1 hour. Allow them to cool and blitz in a food processor. Then, push the puréed orange through a sieve to remove the seeds and lumps.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a saucepan melt the butter and chocolate on a low heat, stir gently to combine. Allow to cool a little whilst you prepare the tin, lining it with tin foil or baking parchment. 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs together until the mixture is pale and airy. Fold in the orange mixture, then the chocolate mixture and finally the flour.

Pour into your tin and bake for about 40 minutes. I start checking it for readiness at about 30 minutes; I like my brownies underdone and gooey, so I am looking for the dull, crackled brownie top but with a hint of wobble still in the very middle when I press it. If you prefer a more cake-like texture, cook for an extra 10 minutes, you want the middle to be firm when gently pressed. Delicious with a glass of cold milk or a milky coffee.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Basil & Walnut Pesto

I always feel better when I have a jar of pesto in the fridge, and even better when it's home-made. Life is super busy at the moment; home and work are battling for my time. So lots of quick soups and pasta dishes have been on the menu in the Smith household, all of which are enhanced with a spoon or two of pesto. As I squeeze writing this post between marking books and reading a bedtime story to Evie, I am yearning for the weekend and the time to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen. But if 10 minutes is all I have, keeping a stash of various pesto in the fridge is a quick way of making something everyday a bit more exciting. Here, I have tweaked the traditional recipe replacing the pine nuts with toasted walnuts to give a nuttier, more autumnal flavour. It makes a particularly good dressing for steamed broccoli with pasta or a simple grated carrot salad.

Makes one jar of pesto

30 g. walnuts  
50g. basil leaves
40g. Parmesan cheese
1 clove of garlic
A pinch of sea salt
A drop of lemon juice
A glug of olive oil

Heat a frying pan, and add the walnuts. Allow them to toast, they are done when they have filled the kitchen with a nutty aroma and they are tinged brown at the edges.

Place them in a blender with all of the other ingredients and a splash of olive oil. Blitz until everything is finely chopped but still has a grainy texture. Stir through a little more olive oil until you are happy with the consistency.

Transfer to a sterilised jar and cover the pesto with a little more olive oil. Place the lid on the jar. The pesto will wait on standby in the fridge for a couple of weeks. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Apple Cake

Yesterday was perfect autumn walk and picnic weather. I had noticed earlier in the week that Erddig, a National Trust stately home only half an hour away from where we live was holding its annual apple festival in celebration of the harvest. Erddig has been on my list of local places that I have always meant to visit but never quite got around to. The festival seemed like the perfect reason to finally make the effort. I had read about their beautiful gardens and friends had told me that it was a lovely spot for a stroll and a picnic. A serendipitous plan was falling into place: glorious autumn sunshine, apples, walk and a picnic.

I was immediately enchanted as we turned into the driveway. If I were to re-write the lyrics to the Sound of Music song, warm dappled sunlight that falls through the trees would be on my list of favourite things: it reminds me of French tree-lined boulevards and shady courtyards. The gentler autumn sunlight and the bronzed leaves made for an even more pleasing aesthetic.

The sunshine being so lovely, we decided to buy the £7 ticket to look around the gardens and apple festival, saving exploring the house for a rainy day. We walked along yet another dappled, leafy path to enter the walled gardens by a side gate. The festival exhibitions and stalls were nicely spread out in different courtyards, connected by paths bordered with red brick walls and home to a vast number of espaliered fruit trees. I am not generally a fan of prim and proper gardening (anyone who has visited my own garden would tell you that my approach to gardening is somewhat organic and haphazard), yet I found the neatly trained trees adorning the Erddig walled gardens utterly charming.   

The garden boasts a dizzying array of plum, cherry, apple and medlar cultivars, many of which are heritage varieties. My only disappointment was that there were not more opportunities to taste the fruit that sat temptingly on display, only a small selection being available for sale. Nevertheless, we spent a lovely afternoon wandering the gardens and picnicking on Welsh oggies, before picking up some fruit for apple-inspired baking back home. 

My basket overflowing with fruit, I spent the drive home considering what to do with it. I decided to make a cake. I wanted one of those dense, moist cakes that can be served warm as pudding but will last a few days to be enjoyed with a flask of coffee on an Autumn walk. I added some eastern promise to the quintessentially British appleyness using rose water, lemon and almond. It makes for a deliciously versatile cake. I hope you enjoy it. Vx

Apple Cake 

For a 22cm cake tin

7-8 medium dessert apples (I used a mixture of Court Pendu Plat and Holland Pippin, procured at the apple festival.)
200g. self-raising flour
175g. caster sugar + a couple of teaspoons extra.
225g butter
50g. ground almonds
3 eggs
1tsp. cinnamon
1tsp. baking powder
2tbsp. light muscovado sugar
4tsp. rosewater
4tsp. lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt 200g. of the butter and put to one side to cool. Line your cake tin with parchment and sprinkle the light muscovado sugar into the base of the tin. Dot the remaining butter around the bottom of the tin amongst the sprinkled sugar.

Slice three of the apples sideways, slicing thinly through the centre of the core and pushing out the seeds. Place the slices in the bowl and dress them with 2 tsps. of rosewater, 2 tsps. of lemon juice and 1 tsp. of caster sugar. Lay these slices into the bottom of the cake tin on top of the sugar and butter. Now peel and chop the remaining apples into bite size chunks, put them into another bowl and dress them with the same quantities of rosewater, lemon juice and caster sugar as you did with the slices.

In another bowl (I know, lots of washing up, but you can charm the washer-upper with a slice of cake), beat together the eggs and the caster sugar before slowly pouring in the melted butter and beating this into the mix. Stir through the chopped apple.

Finally, sift the flour and baking powder and add to the mix with the cinnamon and ground almonds. I like to grind my own almonds in a food processor so that you get a coarser texture that adds a subtle crunch to the cake; ready ground almonds would give a smoother texture. Fold in the flour until everything is combined.

Smooth the cake batter over the apple slices and bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes until golden. Test the cake by piercing with a skewer, if the skewer comes out clean the cake is ready. Serve warm from the oven with a dollop of clotted cream or ice-cream or enjoy at room temperature with a cup of tea.