Reindeer Cupcakes

Reindeer Cupcakes

These are the Reindeer cupcakes we baked last year, we are intending to bake them again this year. Lots of fun to make and the salted pretzels add a little something different.

The first stage is to make some chocolate cupcakes, I have a simple recipe that I use for cupcakes and the quantity can be increased quickly and easily simply by increasing the number of eggs.

The recipe is based around a single egg.

Ingredients

One egg
Same weight of self-raising flour, butter and caster sugar
One tablespoon of cocoa powder

Cream the caster sugar and butter together until smooth.

Add the egg and a little of the flour. Mix until smooth and then fold in the remaining flour and the cocoa powder.

Place spoonfuls of mixture into cupcake cases and bake in a medium oven for ten minutes. Once cooked, cool before decorating.

The cakes are covered in chocolate buttercream icing. Pretzels are used for the antlers and marshmallows for the eyes, spotted with black icing. The noses are homemade biscuits with a giant chocolate button, except for Rudolph who has a red icing nose.

Christmas Four Bird Roast

I usually write a blog post about our Christmas lunch, in the main when it comes to the following year I can remember what worked well and what was less of a success.

A few years ago I spent over a hundred pounds on a four bird roast from Marks and Spencers. It was nice, but was very much a turkey with a little bit of goose, duck and chicken.

The Sainsbury’s version of the four bird roast is a goose stuffed with turkey, duck and guinea fowl. I will say that this is basically a stuffed goose; it’s 62% goose, 9% turkey and there is 8% duck and 8% guinea fowl. Like the Marks and Spencers’ roast it wasn’t cheap, but was half the price of the Marks and Spencers’ version.

This year I would have been tempted to get it again, however Sainsburys weren’t doing it this year. In the end I went with the Aldi Christmas Four Bird Roast again, which we had enjoyed last year.

Christmas Four Bird Roast

The Aldi four bird roast was a little skimpy on the goose and duck, but I did expect that for a ten pound roast. It was simple to cook, but I did let it rest for thirty minutes which seemed to help with carving and the meat was very tender and moist.

It was quite tasty, stuffing wasn’t anything to write home about, but I did supplement it with some homemade stuffing, as well as bacon wrapped sausages.

Overall a success and good value for a tenner.

Brussels with Chestnuts and Pancetta

brussel sprouts pan fried with chestnut smoked bacon lardons and chestnuts

I once again cooked this accompaniment to the Christmas roast we had this year. It is very simple to cook, has festive overtones and really adds something special to the humble sprout.

I peeled and halved the sprouts, now I know some people will think that what is he doing, sprouts are supposed to be whole! Well what I want in this dish is for the sprouts to be a similar size to the chestnuts. The sprouts were partially cooked in advance, by placing in simmering water for about five minutes, drained and plunged into cold water and left to one side. You can do this earlier in the day so freeing up hob space for other things.

When you are close to serving time, in a hot frying plan, add a splash of olive oil and add the pancetta. I went for smoked pancetta, as I much prefer the stronger flavour and it goes well with the similarly strong flavour of the sprouts. Cook the pancetta until is just going crispy. The add the partially cooked sprouts and the chestnuts. I used the cooked and vacuum packed chestnuts from Merchant Gourmet. These are already prepared and cooked and are quick and easy to use. Next year I might use fresh chestnuts and prepare them myself. You can season with some black pepper, but no need to add extra salt, as the pancetta bacon adds the saltiness to the dish.

Toss and saute the sprouts and chestnuts with the pancetta and serve with your favourite festive roast.

French Sausage at the German Market

Birmingham's German Christmas Market

I have been to a few German markets in my time, but have to admit I rarely buy anything from them, usually it’s time, sometimes it’s price and other times what on earth are they selling!

Most German markets I have been too have had some beautiful Christmas decorations and bits, but there are also lots of food stalls.

Birmingham's German Christmas Market

On the odd occasion, though I make a purchase, this time I went with what was described as a French Hot Dog. They looked really quite nice cooking on the griddle.

The blackboard was chalked with £4 each or £6 for a double. What you actually got was a split sausage for £4 and the £6 was for a whole sausage.

It was served in a split section of baguette, along with grated cheese and french mustard mayonnaise.

So what was it like? Well to be honest it was a bit of a nightmare for street food. The sausage was fine, but the skin was really tough, making it very difficult to bite through. I also thought the sausage was rather too salty. The cheese was nice, strong flavoured, but the mustard was a little harsh. Overall a bit of a disappointment, and I thought for £4 was somewhat overpriced.

Cooking the Turkey

Well the Christmas dinner was a real success this year, really pleased with the end result. I like to write about it so next year I can remember what we had, what we liked and what I should avoid.

We had a fair few extra people around so I cooked two roasts, one was the four bird roast from Aldi (which costs just £10) and a more expensive roast from Morrisons, comprising turkey breast wrapped around a smoked pork tenderloin and then covered in pork crackling.

Both roasts were simple to cook and were both full of flavour. Turkey can often be dry, but I managed to avoid that, but that was probably much more down to the style of the roast, it wasn’t a whole bird.

The Aldi four bird roast was a little skimpy on the goose and duck, but I did expect that for a £10 roast. The stuffing was okay, but was slightly overpowering and could probably have down with less herbs.

Alongside the main dish I served a range of vegetables, including a brussel sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta. Timing I find is quite critical with this kind of meal, so I had done a fair bit of preparation in advance, so things went smoothly. For example I had made and prepared my stuffing the night before, I had already trayed up the pigs in blankets and cocktail sausages.

Overall the meal was a success and enjoyed by all.

Four Bird Roasts

Over the last few years we have had our main Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve.

There are many reasons for this, the main is that we have found it makes the meal so much more enjoyable. The children enjoy it more, it feels that Christmas lasts longer.

Last year we went with the four bird roast from Sainsburys, which I really enjoyed, it was easy to cook, looked great and was quite tasty. The Sainsbury’s version of the four bird roast is a goose stuffed with turkey, duck and guinea fowl. I will say that this is basically a stuffed goose; it’s 62% goose, 9% turkey and there is 8% duck and 8% guinea fowl. I really enjoyed the roast, it was what I wanted, though I would like to have more of the other meats alongside the goose.

Four Bird Roast, Goose, Turkey, Duck and Guinea Fowl

We had the four bird roast from Marks and Spencers in 2009, it was basically a stuffed turkey, the chicken, duck and goose only comprise 17%, but with 66% turkey it’s way too much turkey and at £120 is a little expensive for what is a stuffed turkey.

Though we enjoyed the roast, I did find that it contained a bit too much turkey, which is fine if you enjoy turkey, but as a result I do think at £120 it is a little expensive for what is basically a stuffed turkey. It isn’t a “proper” four bird roast, as in a turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a duck and then a chicken. No, it’s a turkey stuffed with portions of the other birds.

According to my blog in 2010 we had a three bird roast, which to be honest I don’t remember.

So what are we doing this year? Well the plan is still to eat the main meal on Christmas Eve, but what will be the centrepiece? Haven’t yet made a decision.

What are you having?

Seafood Platter

For New Year’s Eve we decided to have a fish and seafood platter. It was an opportunity to cook and eat some great food. However one problem, as you may recall New Year’s Eve is not only part of Christmas, it’s also a Monday. As a result it was virtually impossible to find any fresh fish or seafood. Generally the fishing fleets don’t go out at weekends and I suspect that they certainly wouldn’t go out over a weekend during the festive season. As a result we went with frozen seafood, not my first choice, but with what we wanted it was better than nothing.

We got some frozen king prawns, scallops and squid from Sainsbury’s as part of their Taste the Difference range. One of the key things to do when using frozen seafood is to defrost and defrost safely. If you cook frozen seafood from frozen, generally what happens is that you overcook it and it becomes very rubbery. You need to take care when defrosting to avoid food poisoning. The best way to defost is in the fridge, but this takes time. If you do defrost at room temperature, make sure you move the seafood to the fridge once it has defrosted.

The prawns I cooked on my griddle, whilst the scallops were cooked very quickly on a hot flat frying pan, as were the squid rings.

scallops, prawns and squid rings

The scallops were perfect and I was really pleased with how I cooked them. They were browned on each side, but were only just done on the inside. As a result they were melt in the mouth tender, and full of flavour. The prawns were very good, and served with some lemon were delicious. I was less impressed with the squid rings. In the past when I have cooked squid, I have bought frozen whole squid from Tesco and cut it into pieces of squid. I much prefer using this way of preparing squid, usually scoring one side to ensure even cooking and browing of the edges. The squid from Sainsbury’s comes ready sliced into rings. It cooked fine, but it lacked the depth of flavour I have had in the past with squid from Tesco. Why didn’t I get my squid from Tesco, well they’ve seemed to have stopped selling it.

Alongside this plate of seafood I also grilled some giant tiger prawns in their shells. These were placed under a really hot grill, after they were fully defrosted and brushed with some olive oil. The main reason for these prawns is twofold, one is the visual impact, secondly was flavour. They were delicious, though of course were quite messy to peel.

Taste the Difference Whole Giant King Tiger Prawns

We also had some dressed crab, these were small crab shells filled with a crab pate and white crab meat. They looked really nice, but lacked the depth of flavour I would liked to have. This was served with some fresh crusty bread.

Dressed Crab


Another successful dish was some clams. I got a pack of frozen Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company which I mananged to buy at Waitrose.

Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company

Again the key was to ensue they were properly defrosted before cooking, well they’re cooked already, all they really needed was heating up. I did this in a pan with some freshly chopped garlic and parsley. I thought they were delicious and very good value at £3.29. I think they would also work with linguine if wanted pasta and seafood.

We also cooked some salmon, this was roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

Overall this was a delicious meal, we served it with some fresh salad and I also made a paella.

So how was it then?

As you may be aware I decided to try another four bird roast for our Christmas dinner.

So how was it then?

Firstly it was very easy to cook, as instructed I cooked it in a deep roasting dish. I would certainly use a deep roasting dish as the stuffed goose does lose a fair amount of liquid. In addition the instructions recommend adding 500ml of water to the roasting dish, which I did.

I then covered the roast in foil and placed in a hot oven 220°C for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180°C for a further two and half hours. At this point I removed the foil, removed some of the excess liquid and basted the roast. It was then cooked for a further 30 minutes. It was then removed from the oven and allowed to rest for 40 minutes. During the resting period I finished off the other stuff that needed to cook in the oven.

Four Bird Roast, Goose, Turkey, Duck and Guinea Fowl

It was rather good, and a lot better than the Marks and Spencer one I had a few years ago. It seemed to work much better with the core of the dish been a goose over a turkey.

I was pleased with the roast potatoes, for which I used my regular recipe. Taking King Edward potatoes I cut them into smaller pieces than I normally would, so they would cook quicker. They were parboiled for eight minutes, drained and then roughened up. They were then placed in a pre-heated roasting tray with sunflower and olive oil. As I wanted them to cook quite quickly and there was a fair bit of other stuff in the oven, I dusted them with some plain flour. This helps to crispen them up when there is a lot in the oven or a lot of steam.

I also made my own stuffing. In the build up to Christmas I had tried a couple of fresh shop stuffings and wasn’t too impressed. What I found was that they were too meaty. I much prefer a more bread based stuffing and if it contains fruit or nuts, you can taste them. For our Christmas lunch I made two stuffings, one was pork and apple, the other was a fruit and nut. Using fresh breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, some decent pork sausagemeat, freshly chopped onion, egg to bind; and for one chopped apple, the other a handful of a festive fruit and nut assortment. These were then placed into a foil trays and baked in the oven.

We also had a nice mix of vegetables, parsnips, brussel sprouts, carrots and squash.

Overall I was very pleased with the meal, which was enjoyed by all.

…basically a stuffed turkey!

Three years ago I managed to get in time and order a four bird roast from Marks and Spencer.

It went down well, but I did reflect afterwards:

Not sure if I would get it again, there was too much turkey in comparison to the other meats stuffed in there, but still very nice to have a mix of meats. Stuffings were nice as well.

When you look at the ingredients you get an idea why I thought that.

Turkey (66%)  • Pork, Brandied Apricot & Cranberry Stuffing (8%)  • Goose Breast (7%)  • Chicken Breast (5%)  • Smoked Streaky Bacon (5%)  • Duck Breast (5%)  • Poultry Stock • Water • Orange Slice • Dried Apricots • Rosemary • Salt • Ground Black Pepper.

It’s basically a stuffed turkey, the chicken, duck and goose only comprise 17%, but with 66% turkey it’s way too much turkey and at £120 is a little expensive for what is a stuffed turkey.

So what am I doing this year then?

Well, another four bird roast, but this time from Sainsburys. I did consider going to my local butcher, but their’s were too similar to Marks and Spencer’s, basically a stuffed turkey!

Sainsbury's Four Bird Roast

The Sainsbury’s version is different in that it is a goose stuffed with turkey, duck and guinea fowl. I will say that this is basically a stuffed goose; it’s 62% goose, 9% turkey and there is 8% duck and 8% guinea fowl. However as I have been meaning to have goose for a few years now, for me this is an ideal choice. It’s only 3.7kg, smaller than the 4.5Kg of the M&S version. It was also a lot cheaper at £80. I thought this was good value for money when you consider how more expensive goose is than turkey.

I am looking forward to cooking and eating it. As is now traditional in our house we will be cooking and eating our main festive meal on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Dinner

It is traditional in our house to have the Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve. For the last few years we have had our big Christmas dinner (with all the trimmings) on the day before. That way I can relax and enjoy the cooking, the children will enjoy helping and eating the meal and there will be no rushing off to play with new toys…

On the big day itself we ate cold roast and we had a game pie in the fridge.

Tradition? Well it’s now our tradition and it’s perfect if you have children in the house.

For Christmas (Eve) Dinner we had a three bird roast, a small joint of beef and a boneless rolled shoulder of lamb. Though I think I may have overcooked them all slightly, the beef and lamb were very tender, however the three bird roast, though very nice, felt a little dry. The vegetable accompaniments worked well and the meal was enjoyed by all.