I’m back after my bezzie’s wedding in India. The bride and groom were fabulous, catching up with loads of old pals from school was awesome, seeing the Taj Mahal with my N&D was totally wow, the food was outstanding, and the runs could’ve been done without. It was really no surprise why so many foreign tummies got upset out there, but what astounds me is why, after being out of Delhi for three days, the belly has followed me home. I guess there is no escaping. You have been warned.
I’m going to now jabber on about my cute little Christmas.
1. Do not underestimate how long things take to bake
2. Buy some ready-made hummous and pita bread in advance, just in case
3. Be prepared to stay on feet all day long on the 23rd, 24th and 25th if your menu choice is going to be as ridiculous as mine. By being prepared I mean doing 200 squats daily for 6 weeks and having Ibuprofen at hand
4. Do not attempt chinese pancakes, no matter how many times you’ve tried before. It most likely not gonna happen this time round either
5. Buy a LOT of butter, eggs, caster sugar and double cream on christmas eve. You will definitely run out
So my menu was initially set as:
Mint Chocolate Macarons
Cinnamon and Cardamom Macarons
Mulled Wine Cupcakes
Langoustines wrapped in Warka Pastry with Basil Pesto
Crispy Duck with Cranberry Sauce and Chinese Pancakes
Warm Gooey Choco Puds (I dislike christmas pudding very very much)
The mulled wine happened. Lots of it. We’ve used Jamie Oliver’s recipe and it’s always such a grand one. However, for some random reason one can only seem to get hold of frozen langoustines in London, that too ordered online. I wasn’t so sure about ordering dead frozen seafood online. Besides warka pastry is super tricky and I would need my hands to be robot-steady. The cinnamon cardamom macarons…I don’t really have a good excuse for not giving it a go. Actually no, I do. I just didn’t fancy them. Cinnamon chocolate buttercream seemed like a better option. And I’d completely forgotten about the gooey choco puds.
Instead of all the items I’d missed out for various reasons, I’d decided to make Parmesan Grissini with rosemary and garlic baked camembert, southern style chicken wings, and cinnamon scones. Oh, and we tried to re-create Bubba Gump’s cajun shrimp.
Dough and I still don’t really get along so well. But Grissini dough wasn’t such an annoyance. It was a lot easier to manage, I would even go as far as saying it was fun. What was confusing though was that Mr Locatelli stated they should take about ten to fifteen minutes to bake till nice and golden. My grissini sticks took about half an hour in the oven to become nice and golden, even after which they hadn’t really hardened up completely, and had a wee bit of a doughy texture. Luckily we had ample camembert to mask any doughy disappointment.
What a grand call the buffalo chicken wings were! They got all over the place and aren’t the sexiest of foods but they were really finger lickin’ goooooood. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to get my hands on Frank’s Hot Sauce in France but if it needs to be smuggled in, Maria-Full-of-Grace-style, then so be it.
Chopping up the chicken wings was the only creepy bit. They were skinny and reminded me of really old people’s skin – very fair…almost translucent, wierdly soft, smooth and wrinkly. I had to bust out my precious MAC knife on them but they were fairly easy to hack up. I threw out the end wingy bits as no way in hell was I going to eat them.
The mulled wine cupcakes and orange buttercream frosting recipes were from The Cupcake Project. N&D thought they were very good but not very mulled-winey. The recipe does not claim to be too mulled-winey, but for me they weren’t sweet enough either. I’m going to try this again soon, before it becomes ridiculously unseasonal, with more sugar and zest, some vanilla and ground cardamom. The orange buttercream frosting, which is a Cupcake Project original, is the right amount of sweetness and zinginess.
Stage-fright got me good when I felt the duck. It was a whole duck from Whole Foods. It’s skin was so different to the last one I’d dealt with – it was prickly…like it had just been epilated. It was ginormous and scary looking. I shook it about a bit and things were definitely moving around in it. I still braved it and gave it a good poke through one of the ends and felt some squidgy matter and totally freaked. It was 9:00 pm already and there was a very small chance I could go through with it all alone after two whole long days in the kitchen. Seeing my suffering, sweet N&D took the bird under his wing (gettit gettit?). The giblets should’ve been in a little plastic bag but he couldn’t find it so he put his fist through the neck and pulled out the first thing that came to hand – a curved fatty bone. Bone in the bin, and no sign of the giblets. The neck was now flopping about with no support and before we traumatised the duck any further I suggested going through the rear end. He was visibly distraught at the thought of “violating” this defenseless duck but we needed those giblets. And giblets we got. All tucked in nicely in a plastic bag near the rear of the duck.
The duck behaved well from then on but the chinese pancakes were little rascals. Having done them semi-okay before I was confident I’d get them right the second time. I was wrong. They turned out resembling shapeless granny pants with big holes in the middle. Yummy.
I’m going to make macarons forever and ever, as when all else fails macarons make me happy.
Parmesan Grissini (Locanda Locatelli’s recipe)
50g unsalted butter
200g whole milk
10g fresh yeast (I used dried yeast. But I’ve always heard fresh is better)
375g strong white flour
3 heaped tbsp grated parmesan
10g fine salt (this was a bit too salty for me so I’d be a little lighter handed with the salt next time)
1. Melt the butter in a pan, add the milk and heat until warm. Whisk in the yeast. Put the flour, cheese and salt in a bowl, then slowly pour in the milk, mixing with your hands to form a smooth dough. Turn out on to a clean work surface (don’t flour or oil the surface) and fold the mixture into itself a few times. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 230C. Repeat the folding process with the dough, then cover and leave for another 30 minutes. Cut the dough in half lengthways, flour the work surface, and roll each piece into a big rectangle. Cut the dough across its width into 1cm-wide strips. Roll each strip with your fingertips, starting at the centre and moving outwards in three movements, stretching the dough slightly as you roll. Press each end lightly with your thumb, to make an “ear” shape.
3. Lay the grissini on a non-stick baking sheet and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Turn down the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, and bake for 10-15 minutes (lies…took me much longer), until crisp and golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack. They’ll keep for about a week in an airtight container.
Buffalo Chicken Wings
36 chicken wing pieces (one wing makes 2 pieces – the “flat” and the “drum”)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tbsp Frank’s hot sauce
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1. Preheat oven to 200C.
2. Chop whole wings into two pieces (throw away the useless skinny wingy bit). Toss the wings with the oil, and salt. Place into a large food bag, and add the flour. Shake to coat evenly. Remove wings from the bag, shaking off excess flour, and spread out evenly on oiled foil-lined baking pan(s). Do not crowd. Bake for about 20 minutes, turn the wings over, and cook another 20 minutes, or until the wings are cooked through and browned.
3. While the wings are baking, mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a pan, and over low heat bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and then turn off.
4. After the wings are cooked, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Pour the sauce over the hot wings and toss with a spoon or spatula to completely coat.
Mulled Wine Cupcakes (The Cupcake Project)
2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
3/4 C unsalted butter, softened
2/3 C sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
2/3 C sour cream
2/3 C mulled wine, room temperature
1. A few hours before you are ready to bake, combine the orange zest and the sugar in a bowl. This will let the orange flavor infuse into the sugar.
2. With a fork, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in a bowl.
3. Beat butter, grated orange zest and sugar in a large bowl for 1 minute, until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in eggs and sour cream until blended.
5. Alternately fold in flour mixture and mulled wine in three additions, beginning and ending with flour.
6. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full.
7. Bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Orange Buttercream Frosting (The Cupcake Project)
1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
3 oz (about 1/3 C) orange marmalade (try to find one with orange bits in it)
1 1/2 C powdered sugar
1 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
1. Beat butter until creamy.
2. Beat in marmalade.
3. Beat in powdered sugar.
4. Add heavy cream and extracts. Taste and pipe on cupcakes.