Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cook Club: Nigella's Christmas

Boozy British Trifle Title


Highest Scoring Dishes: Boozy British Trifle / Poinsettia
Lowest Scoring Dishes: Roast Squash and Sweet Potato Soup / Panettone and Sausage Stuffing

For Christmas 2009, I received Nigella Lawson's "Nigella's Christmas" as a gift!  Even just reading it, I LOVED this cookbook.  It had Nigella's typical lovely commentary -- little bits of insight into her life as well as her own suggestions and solutions for a fun holiday season.  Even better, the recipes looked applicable to all sorts of parties and even just your everyday dinner.  All in all, it was a very jovial and enjoyable cookbook to read through.  So when November/December cook club rolled around, I thought Nigella Christmas would be a wonderful cookbook to try out -- many of our members are quite busy around the holiday season, so I wanted a cookbook that would be applicable for all those holiday parties and gatherings that everyone would go to.  So thanks to everyone for taking part!  Here's how it all turned out:


Roast Squash and Pumpkin SoupAmanda's Roast Squash and Sweet Potato Soup with Buttermilk Blue Cheese Swirl

Score: 2.5

Of all the recipes I chose, I was most excited about this one, so, I was a little disappointed in how the soup turned out. Overall the dish was a bit bland, and missing some flavor...I am still unsure what. While I was preparing the soup, I liked the fact that the recipe said to leave the potatoes and squash unpeeled (much easier prep!), but disliked it when the soup was put together. The flecks of skin gave the soup an odd texture (yuck!). As a whole, the recipe was very straightforward and easy to prepare, I just wish the flavor would have been better. 

Jackie's Cranberry and Soy-Glazed Cocktail Sausages

Score: 4.0

These sausages were SUPER simple to make and a big hit at the holiday party we had my house!  I ended up using small cocktail sausages instead of breakfast sausages, and all it required was mixing up the marinade, letting the sausages marinate for several hours/overnight, and then baking it up.  These definitely had a bit of a zing -- I love the slight heat with the tangy flavor.  Definitely would make again!


Butternut OrzettoSonia's Butternut Orzotto
Score: 3.5

I made this dish the night before my company's Thanksgiving potluck lunch, and with a bit of extra vegetable stock, it reheated nicely.  This recipe made A LOT of orzo, so I would recommend scaling it down if you're not cooking for a crowd.  I interpreted the "mace" in the recipe as cayenne pepper, and halved the amount in the recipe (1 teaspoon would have been overkill), which gave the dish a substantial and unexpected kick.  The combination of the mascarpone cheese and pureed squash with the cubed pieces, along with the the pine nuts, was a nice blend of textures.  The taste was good, but it lacked a depth of flavor (parmesan cheese? salt? herbs?) that would have really elevated this dish to something special.

Cornish Game HenSuzie's Cornish Game Hen

Score: 4.75  

As someone who had never made any type of whole poultry before, I was surprised that they are actually very simple to make (except for the fact that I forgot to defrost them).  The prep is easy, and then you just have to put them in the oven while you do anything else you need to do.  They take over an hour, so its not a quick meal, but certainly not difficult. They turned out super yummy and moist, and I was told they were even better than the ones we had at an actual restaurant the week before  :)  The flavors were nice and complemented the couscous that I will comment on later.  Only problem was that my spice rack was a little lacking in the spices, so it made it a little more expensive the first time.


CranberryAmanda's Redder than Red Cranberry Sauce
Score: 4

Cranberry sauce is one of my favorites, so when I saw this recipe, I HAD to try it! Honestly, I was expecting the recipe to have a few more ingredients or steps, but the dish did not disappoint. I chose to use Cointreau instead of cherry brandy, (mainly because I couldn't find a small bottle of cherry brandy) and was glad I did! I loved the orange flavor the Cointreau added to the dish, and the simplicity of the flavors were perfect. The entire recipe took 10 minutes, start to finish, so it's definitely an easy one to throw together when lots of other cooking is going on. I will definitely make this again!

Anjali's Beet and Ginger Chutney
Score: 3.25

This was a totally random pick. most because I love condiments and have never cooked with beets.  It was fairly easy (apart from the fact that chopping beets is hard!). The end result was fine, but I had to wonder with what Nigella intended me to eat it.  The British do have a somewhat odd palette...

Panettone and Sausage StuffingJackie's Panettone and Italian Sausage Stuffing
Score: 2.5

We made this dish as part of our Thanksgiving dinner with my family...  I was disappointed with the dryness of the stuffing, but my husband and my dad loved the stuffing with its sausage.  This makes a HUGE portion of stuffing (well, I suppose the fact that we made another stuffing along with this one made us a little ... overstuffed :)).  I didn't feel like this stuffing had much more to it other than sausage, bread, and a few veggies, and that it wasn't very flavorful.

Festive CouscousSuzie's Festive Couscous
Score: 4.75

Once again, super easy to make.  I had the same problem with the spices as with the hen, but I certainly needed to expand my spice rack.  Other than that, you could certainly subsitute different components for this dish.  I added cranberries and pecans because I had them for the cookies, and couldn't find pomegranite seeds.  But quite delicious and a nice break from the usual side dishes I make.

Gold Dust CookiesSonia's Gold Dust Cookies
Score: 4

This dessert wins points for its aesthetic appeal.  The gold dust (I used pearl dust, not real gold powder) gives the cookies a subtle sheen, and the star shape definitely gives it a holiday feel.  I served the cookies at Jackie's holiday party on a gold-colored plate, which made them look extra pretty.  But, the real surprise here is the flavor.  It looks innocently like a sugar cookie, but the ground ginger is a nice twist that gives a bit of warmth and spiciness.  My only complaint is that they are crunchy, and I prefer a soft and chewy cookie.  This did not vary despite tweaks of thickness of the dough or decreased baking time.  The taste was still very good, though!

Spruced-Up Vanilla CakeAmanda's Spruced-Up Vanilla Cake
Score: 3

I opted to make the "spiced" version of this cake, with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, and I think that was a good choice. This recipe reminded me of a bread (Friendship bread) that my mom used to bake. The cake was very easy to put together, but I was a little nervous to bake it in a bundt pan. In my experience, cakes are not cooperative in these types of pans. I was correct...the cake completely fell apart when I turned it out of the bundt pan! Overall, I was not a huge fan of the flavor. I thought it needed more spice, but my parents loved it! It flew off the plate within a matter of days. I will probably try this again, but with more spice. :)

Boozy British TrifleLisa H's Boozy British Trifle
Score: 5

I should first start out by saying I like trifle.   Correct that I LOVE trifle!  Whenever I have a chance to have it, I will.   So, when I saw this recipe I had to try it.  Well it turned out GREAT!  I think this recipe calls for a bit more sherry than most recipes, which is good because I think it makes the cake more moist.  An additional trick that I used was to lay the pieces of pound cake on a cookie sheet when applying the sherry.   It helped to spread the sherry more evenly.  This made the cake layer significantly more moist.   Which is always, as Martha says, “a good thing”.   I’ve never used frozen berries before but they turned out surprisingly well.  They held their consistency and tasted fresh even in the dead of winter.  I did not use the rose petals as suggested, but if I had some I would.  

Sticky GingerbreadJackie's Sticky Gingerbread Cake
Score: 4.25

I made this for a holiday party at my work.  The cake was moist and had a wonderful light ginger taste -- it smelled and tasted just like the holidays.  I definitely recommend taking Nigella's suggestion in frosting the cake with a cream cheese frosting or a lemon frosting or dusting it with powdered sugar (I didn't do either due  to transporting issues and figuring that people dressed in dark colors wouldn't want powdered sugar all over themselves!) -- without, it looked a little bit plain, which may have explained why those cupcakes covered in icing flew off the dessert table faster than the gingerbread cake!  No worries though, I took the leftovers home to my parents' house and my dad devoured the cake. (...and then I powdered sugar on it for the photo ;)) So, I think it was a success :)

Cranberry and White Chocolate CookiesSuzie's Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Score: 4

Basic cookie from scratch as far as technical difficulty.  Uses pecans and oatmeal, so makes for a nice grainy, healthier feel for it :-P.  They came out a little crunchier than I prefer for cookies (I like mine super soft), but I found even when I cooked them less, they didn't have the chewiness that I like.  But I certainly liked the flavors of the cranberry and white chocolate.


Triple Cheese and Onion StrataAmanda's Triple Cheese and Onion Strata

Score: 4

Typically, I am not a huge fan of stratas because of their soggy nature, but this recipe caught my eye. The recipe said to let the bread stale throughout the day, but I decided to leave it out for a good part of the day and overnight to see if that would help some of the sogginess. It turned out to be a good decision. The strata was flavorful, and not at all soggy. Yay! The recipe was very easy to put together. The only problem was that I used the tops of green onions to garnish, instead of chives, which made the onion flavor a little too strong. I will definitely make this again! 

Anjali's Pumpkin Pancakes
Score 3

I chose these because I love both pumpkins and pancakes! I also thought this would be a good breakfast dish for the holidays.  It was very straightforward, sadly, when I see the words baking soda and baking powder, my "non-baker" self starts getting scared! Additionally, my mother does not own measuring spoons.  Indian food doesn't require them. ;) Therefore, I had to approximate...which I knew would alter the final product. And it did; the batter was a bit thick. Nevertheless, we happily ate our pumpkin pancakes


PoinsettiaSonia's Poinsettia
Score: 5

Party punch is an irresistible delight for me, and this recipe did not disappoint as the signature cocktail for our Christmas party.  I used a cranberry-pomegranate juice blend, the tartness of which was sweetened with the orange flavor of the triple sec.  I loved the bubbles of the sparking wine--it made the drink feel fun and fancy. The color was also quite stunning, so don't even think about serving this in Solo cups!  I garnished each glass with a few pomegranate seeds, and it was perfect.

And as a bonus... the recipe to one of the top scoring recipes: 


For the custard:

4 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the base:
2 plain pound cakes (12 ounces each)
One 12-ounce jar strawberry or blackberry preserve
2 cups cream sherry or sweet sherry
Two 12-ounce bags frozen mixed berries, thawed zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons superfine sugar (not needed if using fresh fruits)

For the topping:
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon crystallized rose petals (or crystallized violet petals)
1. To make the custard, heat the cream in a large, wide, heavy-based pan and while it's heating, whisk the egg yolks, whole eggs and superfine sugar in a bowl.

2. When the cream's at boiling point--though, do not let it actually boil--take it off the heat and pour it over the eggs and sugar, whisking as you go.

3. Wash out the pan (boring, but it does have to be done!), then pour the uncooked custard back into it and return to the heat.

4. Cook over a medium heat (people will tell you it should be low heat but that is just too tedious for words!), stirring all the time, until it has thickened. It must never boil!

5. After 10-15 minutes, it should be thick enough, so straightaway pour it into a cold, clean bowl, add the vanilla extract, and whisk a bit to help bring the temperature down.

6. Cover the very top of the custard, as well as the bowl, with plastic wrap and leave to cool, while you start assembling your trifle.

7. Cut each pound cake into 16 slices and make into sandwiches
 with the preserve. Squidge these into the base of your trifle bowl. A trifle bowl should, I feel, be glass so you can see the layers from the outside. The proportions vary and, since the point of the trifle is the layers, the dimensions of your bowl will determine how these build up and the amount of cake etc. you will need.

8. Pour the sherry over the cake sandwiches and let it soak in.

9. Now tumble in the thawed berries, with a little of their liquid. (It might seem unseasonal to use "summer" fruits, but I love their tartness against the sweetness of the custard that will drape over them.) Then grate the zest of the orange over the fruit and sprinkle with the superfine sugar; if you're not using frozen fruit (which tends to be sour), don't bother with the sugar.

10. When the custard's cool, remove the plastic wrap. Pour and scrape the custard on top of the berries. It will be soft-set: thickened but far from solid. Cover the bowl (not the custard this time) with some fresh plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half a day or up to 2 days--it's this standing time that makes the difference.

11. When you are ready to serve, take the trifle out of the refrigerator to stand for about 1 hour. Whisk the cream until softly whipped. You don't want it to merge with the custard, but nor do you want it stiffly peaking.

12. Remove the plastic wrap from the trifle bowl and spread the whipped cream on top of the custard with a rubber spatula.

13. Finely chop the pistachios, sprinkle over the top of the trifle and adorn with a few, beautiful crystallized rose petals (or crystallized violet petals, if you prefer).