This post was begun on Christmas Eve Eve, but I ran out of time to pick it back up again. Our return from Leeds was marked by me finally coming down with the Martian Death Flu that’s been threatening to take me out for months now, so sadly this year in blogging is coming to an end with more of a whimper and a sniffle than a bang! However, my blog anniversary isn’t until early in the new year so perhaps I can make a grand Year of the Cake finale before moving on. In the meantime, here’s the Story of Christmas Snacks…
As someone who can take a notion out of the blue to make a Chinese banquet, Christmas is an excellent time to cook and bake up a frenzy. I’ve been accordingly busy in the kitchen tonight and last night, and wanted to share some of the results.
Miss J and I are hopping on a train to Leeds tomorrow afternoon – hopefully it will take us there and not just sit in the station, being delayed, but in case it does that very thing, and in case of FREEZY DEATH, I have done some train snacks. These are spicy blue cheese and tomato soup, and smoked salmon sushi with ginger and wasabi rolled right in, to keep our sinuses nice and clear and perhaps a little bit on fire. The soup recipe is from LC (quelle surprise) and I interpreted it a little: I left out the cream; halved the other ingredients (though admittedly it was a very generous quarter cup of blue cheese); I couldn’t lay hand to sriracha sauce so used two tbsp of generic chili sauce instead, and the tinned tomatoes were Morrison’s ‘The super finest best chosen by you’ type cherry tomatoes, not specifically San Marzano. And I swapped the oregano for thyme. And I used a small red onion instead of half a medium one. OK I interpreted the recipe quite a lot – it never feels like a lot while I’m still cooking, it’s only when I look back that I realise. In any case, the soup is good – creamy, rich, a bit spicy, velvet smooth – and this is all from someone who usually doesn’t like tomato soup.
I’ve made sushi a couple of times before but never documented it particularly well, so I’m going to do a bit of that here – not in great detail, I’m against the clock this evening, but I’ve got a series of pictures and apparently they’re worth a million words each? So that’s a really long blog post if you look at it that way. Excellent value.
Note: I am no longer against the clock. Get comfortable.
I pre-seasoned the rice to get round the problem of not having those little squeezy fish bottles you get with supermarket sushi, though I do have a little tub of mixed wasabi and soy in case the seasoning isn’t just right. The rice process is what takes the longest with sushi; it gets rinsed, then soaks for half an hour before simmering for ten minutes and then sitting, drained, for a further 20. While it was resting, or whatever rice does when you let it sit for 20 minutes after cooking, I added some rice vinegar and Japanese soy, and mixed through. Then, when it was *quite* ready thankyouverymuch, I squashed it onto two sheets of dried seaweed – one at a time, I’ve only got two hands. If I was an octopus I might be able to do both at once, but then I might feel differently about eating seafood. The rice is inordinately sticky, which is good for helping form the sushi, but bad if you get some on your hands. It sticks more determinedly than something with superglue on it that’s been put in the wrong place. That sticky. Next, and in the middle of the rice, I made a row of smoked salmon, topped with a row of pickled ginger, topped with a very thin layer of freshly made wasabi paste, which I applied with the top of my finger then WASHED OFF REALLY QUICKLY. I added more soy to the rice on either side of the filling, and then I was ready to roll the whole lot up.
I have one of those little rolling mats, which is really helpful for getting the roll started and then for squeezing it together tightly so you don’t end up with sushi that crumbles when you try to lift it – trick sushi, if you will. Good for dinner parties. Entertain your guests, as long as they don’t mind getting fish and rice all down their front and up their sleeves. Hilarious.
There’s not much to the rolling process, other than just doing it and trying to make sure it gets rolled tightly on the first go, because trying to unstick and re-roll just doesn’t bear thinking about. If the nori isn’t keen on staying fastened once you’ve rolled it, dampen it with a little water to make a seal, that should to the trick. One rolled and sealed, I gave it a few more squeezes and such to make sure the whole lot was going to hold together, and then sliced with a serrated knife – an extremely sharp knife should also work, but alas, I don’t keep my knives in good enough condition.
As well as the train food, I baked three batches of snacks for sharing; bacon cookies, apple and cheddar scones and chocolate ginger cookies. The links are all there, and I recommend all three recipes as excellent snack time items. The bacon cookies went down particularly well, I think for two reasons: one, nobody even expects them to be as nice as they are and two, I added half a cup of the same sharp cheddar from the scones to them. This did, however, lead to some interesting complications when baking.
I made the bacon cookie dough the night before and put it in the freezer to firm up, and to keep its shape. I find that cooling cookie dough in the fridge can leave you with a flattened edge, like a flat tyre, unless the dough is already very firm when it goes in the fridge. Putting it in the freezer also means you can leave it longer before baking, so is useful for ‘make ahead’ scenarios. It was tricky to slice evenly – a sharper knife would have helped, again. Top tip here is to use a smooth slicing action rather than a sawing or rocking one, unless you don’t mind every single cookie breaking in half as you cut it. At any rate, I finally had them all sliced and lined up between a baking sheet and the base of a roasting tin, which I’d turned upside down so I could use the flat surface. This did mean that one or two of the cookies hung over the edge a little – this lead to bacon cookies a la Dali, which, while not what I was aiming for, did give me some amusement.
You may also notice, from the photograph of the baked cookies, a certain amount of fizziness in the background. Imagine my surprise when, on checking the progress of these bacon delights, I found the entire baking tray filled from edge to edge with a fizzy combination of bacon fat, cheese and butter. Surprise isn’t even the word, really. Perhaps shock or horror would better fit. The fizz receded once they were out of the oven, though, so I could see that the cookies were actually baking alright in among all the madness, so I popped them back in and left them to it. Look at them – if that’s not an unexpected sight then I don’t know what is. It’s like someone put a load of sherbet amongst them while I wasn’t looking. I LIVE ON MY OWN.
I had also prepared the apple and cheddar scone dough the night before, and was concerned at its moistness when I took it out of the fridge to bake. I had to use what seemed like quite a lot of flour to stop the dough from sticking to the work surface, scone cutter and my hands, but they seemed to come out not too badly, perhaps a little over-fired to ensure that they were cooked through. I’d make them fresh if possible, but it’s good to know that they can be done in advance. I went against the suggestion of cutting the dough into wedges in order to get more scones out of the mix, but the first time I made them I followed the recipe and must say that the big, buttery triangles of delight were extremely pleasing and not at all rude, as that phrase suggests that they might have been (sorry).
Sadly, I was in a fankle by the time the chocolate ginger cookies came round, and I didn’t take any photos of them. This is sad because they go in the oven looking like chocolate truffles, and come out looking like perfectly formed biscuits (or slightly malformed because you’ve sat them too near each other on the baking tray biscuits, depending). They are very tasty, and very festive indeed with their mis of chocolate and spices perhaps I’ll try them again with some different flavours, maybe start adding some ground nuts… You know, ‘interpreting’ the recipe…
Some karaoke classics from this Christmas in Leeds – guaranteed to get you off your seat and fighting for a mic (or perhaps that was just us…). Rock Salt Playlist Week Nine – we’re back to the official numbering system, and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. I know I have.
That is all I have to say about Christmas, now, and I’m stumped as to any words to say for the new year. Perhaps all that there is to say is thank you to everyone who’s supported by cookery-based ramblings this year, and I hope that whatever it is you really want, you find it in 2011.