Belated Festive Post #1 – Stollen Wreath & Cola Ham

Get in the hole!

Get in the hole!

It would take a bold man to argue that anyone is feeling Christmassy any more. In the midst of a bleak January riddled with guilty drinking and furtive feasting, there is arguably little for our stomachs to look forward to in this fallow month. So, if you will allow, let me take you back to a time when all was well and full of stodge, binging and general merriment…

‘Big D’ (Dad) rules the roost when it comes to the main event in the Phillips’ household over the holiday period; judge, jury and executioner on the 25th without exception. However, this does allow us minnow Phillips’s to have a pop in the kitchen in the run up and usually afterwards for good measure.

This year I thought I’d chip in with something sweet that would also flex my bread making learnings and the ham (a righteous honour once the sole responsibility of provision by Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ Goldfinch, my grandad).

Unless a dish is reasonably tried and tested in our household, it tends to come under major scrutiny even before the ingredients are bought. Anything involving ‘too much red meat’ normally requires draining negotiation with my mum and anything that is initially dismissed by my dad is a long slog to win back around.

The Cola ham certainly raised a few conservative eyebrows around the family, with I think only my little brother giddy at the prospect of meat boiled in sugary syrup. The stollen wreath less so but only because none of us really knew what it entailed, myself included.

Stollen Wreath

As alluded to above, this is basically a big sweet bread with boozy fruit and a marzipan center running through the middle. Niiiiice. You can find the recipe here.

Rum soaked fruit - always a good shout.

Rum soaked fruit – always a good shout.

Despite coming out looking seriously pimping (if I do say so myself), it was surprisingly straightforward to make. Anyone that’s made a loaf of bread before should be able to tackle this with ease.

The only morsel of advice I would offer is when adding the boozed fruit to the dough, use a slotted spoon or even drain it off beforehand. I had to do some emergency flouring halfway through to patch up some very moist dough. To say Jules (mum) would have been unhappy with the mess would be the understatement of the year. And given that we were nearly at the end of the year at the time, she would have been pretty miffed had she known. And Mum, if you’re reading, now you do.

I ended up going a bit rogue in the absence of a small cake tin for the middle, instead using this rather fetching pot which worked a treat:

Cracking with a bit of Eggnog. More on that to follow.

Cracking with a bit of Eggnog. More on that to follow.

Cranberries, pistachios, marzipan, boozy raisins and generous lashings of icing…proper Crimbo in a mouthful.

Cola Ham with Maple & Mustard Glaze

I won’t linger long on this as I feel like I’ve come rather late to the ‘ham boiled in coke’ party and may be preaching to the choir. If you’re yet to give it a go, I’d heartily recommend following this recipe here. It is face-meltingly good.

After a slight malfunction on my part (I cut the strings off before starting to boil) and a swift fix from Big D (manfully locating some string in the garage and retying the ham), we were off. Having chosen a 4 kg behemoth of a specimen, we could barely fit in the pot as it bubbled away, the stock turning a sticky brown, sweet and meaty aromas perforating the air amidst an offensively loud Strictly Come Dancing semi-final.

Following the boiling, it warranted a quick stint in the oven, being reglazed over and over with the maple and mustard in a gluttonous caress. Beltingly good meat; sweet and salty, melt in mouth and a perfect fatty crust.

The conservative eyebrows were firmly put back in their place. Unfortunately for me, I was still destined to be emasculated at the last moment as Big D stepped into carve the spoils. I don’t think that will ever change.

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Economy Gastronomy: Collar of Gammon

Grizzled and warier from my last outing into the world of Economy Gastronomy, I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. This time the pedigree of my bedrock ingredient would sing from the proverbial rooftops to all that would care listen!

And so I began my search, first punching in the number for our dear friends at William Rose Butchers to sound them out for their finest 2.5kg specimen. However, I was told in no uncertain terms (but incredibly friendly and polite, as is there way), that they didn’t stock uncooked collars of gammon. A tragic shame.

My hand was therefore forced into calling our not so dear friends at Moen Butchers for the same request. Again, I was told they do not carry this item in stock. I was informed that perhaps I was “better off trying one of the large supermarket stores”. Did I imagine a hint of a sneer accompanying that statement down the phone line? Possibly. Is the humble collar of gammon looked down upon by independent butchers en mass? It would appear so.

With my tail between my legs and the thoughts of a painstakingly reared ham diminishing fast, I scurried off to Sainsburys to salvage the situation. The best I could do in the end would be a £10 2kg Dutch unsmoked gammon. Smaller than I had in mind and certainly not as romantic. Paltry even, I thought as my mind flitted back to that blockbuster but ultimately hair-singing Brixton afternoon this summer past. The crackle of the skin over the open charcoal, the fatty smoke billowing out across the yard and the first bite of the flame-licked and juicy flesh still laced my senses. Staring down at the limp offering in my trolley, surrounded by bacon’s watchful eye, I felt a porcine sadness threaten to overwhelm me.

Fortunately, words of warning from my erudite lower sixth form English teacher, Dr.Greenhalgh, chose to materialise at this moment. “Beware the trappings of nostalgia, for it is a false emotion.” Steeled by this I pushed on to gather the rest of my ingredients.

A wise man indeed. And incidentally now published by Penguin.

A wise man indeed. And incidentally now published by Penguin.

The gammon, plus a variety of other ingredients, cost around £30 (same as the pumpkin) and yielded the following:

3 portions of Boiled Ham with Spinach Dumplings, Root Vegetables and a Grain Mustard Sauce (all eaten).

Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

3 portions of Honey and Maple Glazed Ham with Cheesy Champ (all eaten).

4 portions of Spinach, Ham and Ricotta Gnocchi (2 eaten, 2 frozen)

And finally 2 absolutely belting ham sarnies with h0me-made bloomer bread.

The money shot.

The money shot.

All in all that’s 12 portions of food at roughly £2.50 a go. Not as good value-wise as the pumpkin bedrock, but still pretty amazing and cheaper than most ready meals that you would probably consider eating. With the remaining ham stock I also made about eight portions of freezable Sausage and Lentil Soup which was absolutely delicious. Lentil (or any pulse based soup) being the only option as ham stock is too salty and strong flavoured to use in most other ones.

However, the big question following the pumpkin was how did it taste? Did the £10 gammon stand its ground in the face of a thrice-time cooking? Definitely.

Everyone knows a glazed and baked ham is a treat of the highest order. That’s just a fact of life and I won’t waste both our time by preaching to the choir. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty and decadent the boiled ham dish turned out. Boiled meat is often something I turn away from, mainly due to the texture, but this was juicy and succulent. Plus the mustard spice sauce gave it that needed bite.

The ragu was the simplest of an already simple batch of recipes. I pretty much inhaled it and its frozen relations over subsequent nights. Indeed, coupling it with the leftover pumpkin risotto made me reach a Nirvana-esque level of smugness.

Laura’s faith is also restored. That is, at least for now.