Naughty New Year Niceties

26 Feb

We were away for the holiday period so I didn’t have the chance to do much cooking or baking, apart from helping out in other people’s kitchens, which mostly involved chopping veges and tasting dishes. I had planned to write about my Christmas recipe experiments, but in the end there weren’t any. Oops. Instead I travelled, visited friends and family, socialised and relaxed.

So, instead of Christmas recipes, I have a couple of New Year recipes for you. One is pretty easy-peasy and the other, a little harder, especially if you are easily distracted like me…

Potato Gratin

This is a favourite of mine because it’s so easy and so damn delicious. As a bonus, it’s reasonably healthy too. The traditional French recipe calls for lots of cream and butter: this is just as delicious but with less of the fatty stuff. Make sure you cook it for at least an hour so that the potatoes are melt-in-the-mouth consistency and the stock has had time to develop into a thick, tasty sauce.

I have made this recipe so many times that it can really only be called a very loose adaptation of the one I originally found in a low-fat cook book, which I sadly no longer possess.

Potato Gratin Recipe

  • 1 garlic clove (ok, so I forgot this this time so I’m going to call it optional, but it does add some flavour)
  • Around 5 large potatoes – how many you use depends on how deep you want the dish to be. Bear in mind that the deeper it is, the more cooking it will need. I usually use 4 – 6 potatoes, depending on their size –  Cut these into thin slices
  • 600ml to 1 litre vegetable stock – the original recipe used chicken stock, but vege stock gives just as much flavour
  • Parmesan cheese, grated – approximately 1 cupful (the original recipe says 3 tbsp but hey)
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to season
  • A large, oven-proof dish. I used an ovular Pyrex one (see photos)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200° C (392 °F)
  2. Halve the garlic clove and rub over the bottom and sides of your dish, then grease the dish as well. You can use a roasting dish if you don’t have a Pyrex one
  3. Arrange the thinly sliced potato pieces in the dish so they form a layer
  4. Sprinkle with some grated Parmesan and season with salt and pepper
  5. Layer again with potatoes and sprinkle with cheese, salt, pepper
  6. Repeat until you reach your desired dish depth. The original recipe says three layers, but I tend to do a few more
  7. Pour stock over so that it is enough to cover the potatoes but not drown them
  8. Sprinkle with nutmeg
  9. Add a final covering of cheese
  10. Bake at 180 deg for about an hour. You may need to extend this to 1.5 hours, depending on your oven and how much you want to brown the potatoes
  11. Test near the end of the cooking time to ensure that the potatoes are soft and the stock sauce is bubbling and thickened

Beautiful as a main or as a side dish.


Russian Fudge

I managed to whip up some Russian Fudge for a loved one’s birthday. As I launched into the fudge making process, I had vague memories of only ever having made this particular treat successfully once, but I ignored that and decided that it was time to give it another crack. Well, in all honesty, it is not the easiest thing to make and it was almost a disaster and I almost had a meltdown, which is not really like me, but I am a little bit more prone to meltdowns at the moment…

I have to confess to not being very good at carefully watching things that are simmering or boiling on the stove top, such as custard, white sauces or… fudge. So, it came very close to being burnt. After attempting to bring the mixture to the boil, I saw some ominous brown flecks float to the surface, pulled the saucepan off the element and declared the project a ruinous mess! But then the BFG (after sticking a finger in the hot-mess-mix and then in his mouth) pointed out that it didn’t taste or look burnt and I should soldier on. And so, soldier on I did, being a lot more careful to SLOWLY heat the mixture and to bring it to a GENTLE boil as the recipe instructs and it turned out pretty perfectly. I think part of the problem is that I get impatient and turn the heat up too high and, not surprisingly, end up burning things. Let’s just say that the BFG no longer lets me grill things in the oven. Well, he threatens this anyway :). So, my tips for good fudge making include:

  1. Keep an eagle eye on the mixture while it’s heating and make sure you’re doing it gradually (read: slowly and gently heating!)
  2. Follow the instructions around the timing of the boiling and the beating of the mixture
  3. Use the soft ball test. It actually works! This is when you test if the mixture is ready by dropping a little bit into cold water and seeing if it forms a soft ball. If it’s just a blob, it’s too soon; if it’s a hard ball, it’s too late!

Russian Fudge recipe

I used the Chelsea Sugar recipe, which is apparently originally a Jo Seagar recipe.

  • 3.5 cups white sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 3 Tbsp Golden Syrup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200g sweetened condensed milk (half a tin)
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  1. Grease a 20cm cake tin or slice tin
  2. Place all the ingredients except the vanilla into a medium, heavy based saucepan
  3. Warm over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, about 10-15 mins
  4. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until it reaches the soft ball stage (as mentioned above, but if you have a candy thermometer the temperature should reach 120°C
  5. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla
  6. Cool for 5 minutes then beat using an electric mixer until the fudge is creamy and thick and has lost its gloss (approx. 10 minutes)
  7. Pour into the prepared tin, score the top and cut into pieces when set

A tip from the original website: Cut two sheets of baking paper the width of the tin, criss-cross the paper to line the tin making sure the sheets are long enough to extend over the sides. Use the paper to lift the fudge out of the tin once it has set.

Unfortunately I didn’t take many photos of the fudge: the ones that didn’t end up in the birthday package (along with some of my date truffles) were taken to my Book Club… and devoured! If you’re wondering what the first picture is, it’s my Scottish spoon rest. Brought back all the way from Edinburgh and very handy too!


Before I finish, for those who are wondering, there will be a wedding blog part deux, but all in good time, my friends. I may have been a little distracted by another exciting blogject on the go! It was launched a couple of weeks ago and can be read here: Pudding Club Days.






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