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An un-Nero Wolfe Christmas, part 3 December 31, 2009

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Sweet things.
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(find Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

While Nero Wolfe may not have approved of us celebrating Christmas in such an excessive manner, surely we should get points for staying power?!

For dessert, I made gingerbread, christmas pudding and eggnog. I found an easy recipe for christmas pudding that said it could be done overnight, rather than having to be prepared weeks in advance. The night before, I prepared the fruit by soaking it in rum. I then mixed in eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, flour (and probably some other things I’ve forgotten now) to make the batter:

The recipe said you had to steam the pudding for 4 hours in calico cloth. Well, I didn’t have a calico cloth, nor could I find one when I went hunting. So I improvised – using teatowels! New teatowels, I should add, washed in advance for this purpose only. I had thought in advance about how I was going to steam these puddings – since I’d be using the oven and stove at the same time to cook the rest of our meal. I decided the easiest way was to use our chinese bamboo steamers, monitoring the water level to ensure it didn’t dry out:

The puddings, ready to steam

OK I do realise this is not the most orthodox way to cook christmas puddings but you know what? It worked just fine! However, I did forget to take a shot of the final cooked puddings – apologies.

I made gingerbread the night before, madly icing the things at about 10pm. I had been curious about these mini gingerbread houses by not martha and wanted to see if it was possible to make them. I ended up making 4 only but I was impressed that any of them worked! They were time-consuming to put together but if I’d started earlier I think I would have made more of them. As it was, I made 4 houses and cut the rest out in christmas tree shapes, which I then iced:

My icing wasn’t the neatest – as I said it was nearing 10pm when I started icing – but I thought that added to their homemade charm…right? right?! I know my houses aren’t as pretty as Not Martha’s but I was pretty impressed that they worked at all. I thought I’d have broken walls and a cracked roof! I might try them again using a shortbread recipe so hopefully they’ll be prettier the second time around.

I also made eggnog using a simple recipe involving milk (no cream), cooked egg yolks, spices, and a healthy dose of rum. I’m never going back to that stuff you can buy in the supermarket again!

So: the result. The christmas puddings were nice enough but I believe would have benefitted from a longer preparation time. They were certainly edible and tasty, but the flavour wasn’t as deep as I was hoping. Next year I’ll have to start earlier. The gingerbread was very nice (I’ve used this recipe a lot before so I was fairly confident of the outcome) and the houses were a big hit with our friends who came around to eat leftovers on Boxing Day. The eggnog was rich, thick, boozy and delicious.

While this meal may not have been something Nero Wolfe would have approved of due to its link with Christmas, I do think it was Wolfe in spirit, thanks to the quantity and quality of food consumed – and who can resist a beautiful ham?!

An un-Nero Wolfe Christmas, Part 2 December 30, 2009

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Pork, Vegetables.
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(Part 1 can be found here and Part 3, here)

For the main part of the Christmas feast, I had decided to cook a ham – I’d never cooked a ham before. I had pre-ordered a brined 4.5kg boneless ham from my awesome local butcher, and picked it up a couple days before Christmas. My butcher had apologised when I picked it up as it was bigger than I’d ordered but I assured him it wasn’t a problem – in true Wolfe style I obviously wasn’t going to worry about more food!

This is a photo of the ham as it appeared from the butchers:

They had done a great job on the brining. First, I washed the ham and put it in the oven to cook for a couple hours at about 180 degrees, or until the meat thermometer said it had an internal temperature of about 70 degrees celsius.

There was a bit of an issue with the ham really being too big for our oven, and the oven not being able to heat up as a result. After we fiddled with the oven settings for a while, it finally started heating properly and the ham began to cook. After 2 hours almost exactly, I tested the internal temperature and it had reached the magical 70 degrees.

I took the ham out of the oven and let it cool slightly so I could remove the rind. While it was cooling I made the glaze, using a Martha Stewart recipe. I was interested in this glaze recipe as it sounded more complex (flavour wise) than many of the usual honey-type glazes, and the result proved well worth it.

The rind came off really easily and I also sliced off some of the fat layer underneath, and scored the meat. The glaze was fairly goopy and I covered the ham as best I could. Here’s a photo of the ham with the glaze on:

I put the ham back in the oven uncovered, to let the glaze cook and crisp up. While it was cooking, I added my chopped up veggies (carrot and parsnip) to the oven so they could cook too. I cooked the vegetables in the fat and rind I’d cut off the ham, and the remaining bits of glaze:

After about 40 minutes, the veggies were done and the glaze had gone crispy (and a bit burnt) on top:

While the largest temptation at this point was to bite into the ham as it sat, my reading over at The Food Lab had convinced me to let the ham rest for 20-30 minutes (yes, I know the recipe calls for resting the meat but this is often a stage I skip due to my impatience).  After an agonising (but delicious smelling) 20 minutes, we cut the ham open:

An action shot of the ham being sliced

The final result for the main course: Oh my goodness that ham. It was one of the best hams I’d ever tasted! The glaze was delicious – spicy and sweet and sticky all at the same time. The mustard, fennel and cardamom seeds added spice and bitterness, which was balanced by the sugar and molasses. I was surprised how well the glaze had flavoured the ham, too. While it had only cooked for 40 minutes with the glaze, the flavour had penetrated the ham making each bite a delicious, succulent, piggy mouthful. The vegetables also, having been cooked in the fat and rind of the ham, were also beautifully flavoured.

And what would we need after a mouthwatering appetizer, and rediculously, awesomely delicious ham and veggies? Dessert, of course! On to part 3!

An un-Nero Wolfe Christmas, part 1 December 30, 2009

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Cheese, Drinks.
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(Part 2 can be found here, and Part 3 here)

“Christmas – an excuse for wretched excess aptly symbolized by an elephantine elf who delivers gifts to the whole world in one night.” — Nero Wolfe in A Christmas Party (part of the And Four to Go collection of short stories).

So Nero Wolfe is determined to be grinchy over the Christmas period – despite Fritz and Archie willing to put on a good show. I, too, have had my share of grinchy moments over this Christmas. And while I agree in theory with Wolfe’s sentiments about Christmas being an excuse for excess, it’s also a great opportunity to get into the kitchen and do some cooking not normally attempted.

As in previous years, my partner H and I got the family stuff over early in the morning and were back at our place by 11 to begin the great cooking adventure.

We started with some Champagne cocktails – Champagne, passionfruit, and brandy. I froze the passionfruit pulp and juice into icecube trays the day before. While we were sipping on these I got to work on the appetizer – otherwise known as something for us to nibble on in case the later courses got ‘delayed’ (not that that would EVER happen of course…).

I made an appetizer of baked camembert. It sounds simple. It was simple! It tasted absolutely wonderful. First I put some red wine, cloves, sugar and a cinnamon stick into a saucepan to let the wine become infused with the flavours. Next, I prepared the camembert by pricking it all over to let the wine seep in. Then I strained the wine (to remove the cloves and cinnamon stick) and poured it over the cheese, and baked it for 10 minutes on 200 degrees celsius.

OK I’ll admit it: I just wanted to scoop that whole thing out of the pan and eat it on the spot. But being the generous and sharing person that I am – and mindful of the fact that there were many courses to come – I refrained, and served it with crackers on a plate I’d received that morning as part of my Christmas swag:

This cheese was delicious! We gobbled the whole thing down in about 10 minutes, I reckon. I’ve already bought another cheese to do this again. I’d love to try this with a mild blue cheese to give a bit more ‘bite’ to the dish but I’m unsure how that would work in the oven – I think the cheese would just melt all over the place.

(I also served dips and olives for us to snack on but I didn’t make them and didn’t take any photos of them!)

Onto Part 2 – Ham and veggies!

Skip to Part 3 – Dessert!