Early Christmas lunch

Just in case you’re all completely sick of turkey by now, but hopefully not all food, I thought I’d post what I cooked for an early Christmas lunch with some friends last Sunday. I find turkey really boring and we never bothered with it in my family – we just tend to make whatever we fancy or can find at the local butchers. I think this would go down well as a New Year’s Eve dinner too.

I didn’t bother we starters as we had two big roasts for the main, but Alex made some bacon-wrapped dates – so simple but really good, and kept guests happy while we were panicking over pork crackling. To make them, cut the bacon rashers in half lengthwise and wrap each date with half a rasher. Pop under a medium grill till crispy.

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The two mains were the ever-dependable pork belly with anchovies and chestnuts (recipe here) and a slow-cooked lamb shoulder with a few garlic cloves stuffed in it. Both cooked for 4 hours, and the pork crackling was finished off under the grill. I added potato chunks to both trays about an hour before the meats were done, and let them cook in the meat juices. Served it all with honey-roast carrots and parsnips and boiled cavolo nero.

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It had been ages since I made one of my favourite desserts, anĀ apple tarte tatin, so I gave it a go again. I’m a bit out of practice so it wasn’t as photogenic as last time, but still tasted just as good. The apples take a good few hours to caramelise in the oven, so I cooked them the night before and finished them off with the pastry added on top after the meats were done. It takes a while, but involves minimal effort (apart from praying that the apples drop when you flip it upside down).

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We finished it all off with a selection of cheeses and chocolates, and a good round of the Formula 1 game which is optional but highly recommended. Merry Christmas!

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Chinese Pork with Aubergines and Crackling

It turns out I love Chinese food. And although there is a place and a time for the sickly, bright red, sweet and sour sauce at the all-you-can-eat buffet (say, Sunday lunch somewhere in Zone 7), it doesn’t come close to making your own sweet and sour at home.

This is not quite it I suppose. Maybe somewhere in between a sweet and sour and the fish fragrant aubergine I had at Chilli Cool a few weeks back. I’ve been wanted to make something similar since then. And just in case that wasn’t exciting enough, I thought I’d use the skin to make some crackling. I don’t like waste, you see.

Please don’t get angry at me for the generic name I’ve given this dish. I didn’t follow a specific recipe and didn’t want to call it something that it isn’t. If you have any better suggestions I’d love to hear them!

The crackling was amazing, properly puffed up and with soft bits every here and there. It was in fact so good that we ended up eating it all before I could take a picture of it. I’ll be making this again.

Chinese Pork with Aubergines and Crackling

For the sauce
a small pork joint
3 tbsp chinese rice vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine

Chop the pork in inch thick cubes and add all the ingredients in a bowl. Let it marinate for half an hour (or longer if possible – you can do it overnight in the fridge). Reserving the marinade, fry the pieces of pork over high heat until browned. If they are releasing too much liquid you can add that to the marinade. You don’t want them to simmer. When browned and with crisped edges, take out of the pan and set aside.

2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, grated
3 dried birds-eye chillies, chopped
2 aubergines, sliced in fingers*
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
extra soy sauce or rice vinegar, to taste

* I threw in some courgettes and peppers because I had them in my fridge, but the aubergines were by far my favourite – no surprises there!

In the same pot used to brown the meat, add the oil and soften the onions. Add the garlic and chilli, fry for a couple of minutes and then add the aubergines (or any other vegetable you’re using). When they’ve browned a bit, add the meat pieces, the reserved marinade, the ketchup and sugar and enough water to cover everything. Let it simmer until the sauce thickens and the pork is tender. Taste and add more soy sauce or vinegar if you want it saltier/more sour. If the sauce is too thin you can use some cornflour to thicken it.

For the crackling

the skin of the pork, in one piece
vinegar (use some of the chinese rice vinegar from before)
salt

Score the skin and place it on a rack over the sink. Poor boiling water over it, pat dry and rub with the salt and vinegar. Roast in a preheated oven at 200 Celsius for about an hour. When it’s looking crispy, pop it under a hot grill to puff up. Make sure you keep an eye on it as it can go from puffy to burnt in seconds!

Serve the pork with some plain rice and a bit of crackling on the side.