Christmas Dinner

Apparently not taking photos of events I make food at is becoming a habit. Oh, wait, there is one. Here I am in my parents’ kitchen with my foot in a bucket of cold water after pouring boiling stock on it:

xmas dinner

Also in the bucket: ice (for cooling) and lemon (for hilarity).

After much boasting that my Christmas dinner would not be at the usual time of half three, but at 1 PM sharp, I of course reverted to family tradition and served up at the gloriously late hour of half four.

I blame the lamb. I bought two shoulders of it and they were enormous and unwieldy and failed to fit inside things. They also weighed 6kg between them rather than the 1kg specified by the recipe. Needless to say, parts of the skin was still visibly raw at the time they were due to have finished cooking. I exaggerate, but only a little.

The lamb recipe was a slow-cooked casserole by Lorraine Pascale. To speed the cooking, I resorted to putting each shoulder in a deep baking tray with its juices coming up almost to the top, sealed all around with tin foil. This worked marvellously, except when it came to turn them, because it was almost impossible to do so without sloshing stock over the sides. I spilt boiling stock over the floor at least three times, but after the first time I kept my feet clear.

For the pescetarians, we did salmon en croûte, which was amazing despite being dubbed “ultimate makeover”. I would make again in a flash if I can ever afford salmon fillets (i.e.: next Christmas). I used puff pastry rather than filo and didn’t regret it.

The starter was goat’s cheese and red onion filo parcels. I was pretty pleased with this, and enjoyed using filo for the first time. It’s delicate and fiddly – lots of layering and brushing with butter – and gave me a new level of respect for hapless Bake Off contestants who have to make their own. The red onions, though, were quite wet and didn’t turn deep-coloured and solid. My guess is that they are not meant to be covered while cooking, as  the recipe specifies.


Bread 29: Grape Harvest Focaccia from Italy

I made this for a party, and it was oh-so-easy and delicious. Adding grapes and rosemary and some crunchy coarse salt makes it celebratory even though it’s cheap. Which is one of the many things I love about good homemade bread: luxurious eating for pence.

This recipe is from Daniel Leader’s Local Breads, one of my favourite books, which I have written about before. In the preface to this recipe, he describes an idyllic trip through Umbria with a bevy of bikers, just as the grapes are ripening (yes: jealous). This bread is a seasonal speciality.

focaccia (2)


300ml tepid water
1tsp active dry yeast
500g plain flour
60g olive oil (I did not measure this)
1.5tsp salt

for the topping
200g red grapes (used extra)
2tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
1tsp coarse salt


1. Mix the dough ingredients and knead until smooth and elastic. Cover and leave to double in size, around 1-1.5 hrs.

2. Lightly grease a rimmed baking tray. Turn out the dough onto the tray and oil your hands. Gently stretch the dough towards edges without tearing it. Give it a 5 min rest or two if necessary. Fully stretched, the dough should be about half an inch thick.

3. Coat the dough in olive oil using your hands and add dimples all over it with your fingertips. Press the grapes into the dough at regular intervals and sprinkle over the salt and rosemary.

4. Cover the dough and leave to rise until it puffs up around the grapes, around 45 mins.

5. Bake for 20-30 mins at 190 C, until the grapes are bursting and wrinkled and the bread is lightly golden.

focaccia (1)

New bread book: Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf

I’ve had The Handmade Loaf for some time but, after reading a post complaining about people who review cookbooks without having tried the recipes, I’ve sat on it for a while. Now I’ve made five, which I think is enough to be getting on with.

I love this book: it is broad, and curious, and pan-European. Dan Lepard doesn’t talk down to the reader: he throws in hard-to-find ingredients and unusual techniques without apology. Don’t want to have to track down barley flour? Dan assumes you have enough sense to switch it for something more obtainable. He agrees you’ll probably want to mail-order malted grains rather than malt your own, but proceeds to tell you how to do it should you want an insight into the process. I haven’t tried the malting, but it makes me feel good that I’d know where to begin.

lentil rolls

This all-in quality means the book is not especially beginner-friendly, but allows him to fill a whole book with interesting bread recipes without resorting to either same-y variations or shoehorning recipes in that aren’t bread… Actually, there are Chelsea buns in here, so Lepard is guilty of this too. But I’ll forgive him as his section division is so charming and convincing. It’s not just the divisions, his themes are well thought-out and satisfying. After the basics, sections are as follows:

  • From water to wine: covers addition of all sorts of leftover liquids like milk, ale, even pickle juice. This sounds like an odd section but it works.
  • From field to mill: different base flours.
  • Seeds and grains: self-explanatory, but includes some surprise recipes, such as the lentil rolls above.
  • Abundant harvest: adding fruits.
  • Herbs, spices and fragrances.
  • The fat of the land.

…which I find a nice and original take on bread. He also scatters throughout little features that focus on a particular country, but I found these less interesting and they would have been better more clearly linked to recipes.


In terms of practical usage, all the recipes I’ve tried have been clear, worked, tasted good and in some cases done something pretty original. Some minor gripes / questions.

  • His oven times are often too long for my oven. After 30 mins at 210 C in mine, any loaf is pretty much done and can’t cope with a further 20 mins at a lower temp. The rest of my equipment is inaccurate, though, so it’d be surprising if my oven wasn’t.
  • I don’t think I’ve got the hang of his almost-no-kneading method (10 sec bursts of kneading, interspersed with breaks). My dough just doesn’t windowpane after his instructions, so I usually keep going. I’m going to persist with this, though, probably by giving it more 10 sec kneads, because I’m pretty sick of Daniel Leader’s approach where you knead it solidly for 15 mins. Leader’s seems to be designed with a machine in mind and adapted to by hand.
  • I wish he wouldn’t only give fresh yeast amounts, in tsp. Because I don’t use fresh yeast and it’s a pain to convert.

Any other people called Dan L written a book about bread? Because those are my favourites.