Experimental cooking in practice

Hi everyone. Sorry for the delay with my next post, but had to switch off from the matrix for the duration of the holidays. As promised, today I am going to report on what was cooking in my kitchen for winter celebratory dinners this year. I've already mentioned that this year I celebrated within a narrow circle of my immediate family - apparently newborn twins are a big turn off for big parties :) But I've used this opportunity to test some new dishes and here is the account of the results.

Based on my previous posts, you already know that one of my principles is that the recipe is only a guideline and I just can't stop myself from the experimenting, some of these experiments are driven by my tastes and some - by the availability of the ingredients either in my cupboard or on the supermarkets shelves of the particular country I am cooking in. 

The first dish I am going to share with you, Pork Joint in Coke, was inspired by this Nigella recipe:

Christmas pork joint / ham in Coke recipe / goldenapron.com

But midway through the cooking, I realized that we've run out of cloves and though I was sure that I had black treacle, apparently, the last portion of it went into the rye bread I baked some time ago. Last minute shopping on Christmas eve is not fun, so I had to do some modifications to the recipe. So, here are the results of this particular experiment:

Ingredients:

Pork Joint in Coke: 1st Step
  • 2.5 kg gammon joint
  • 1 onion
  • 1.5 litres of cola (I used supermarket's private brand)
  • Glaze was made out of the Dijon mustard, honey, golden syrup, dark soy sauce and demerara sugar. 
  • And instead of cloves I used a mix of bayberries and red peppercorns.

Method:

Pork Joint in Coke: Last Step

First, I boiled the gammon in a pan with the onion and coke for about 3 hours. Then I left it to cool down and absorb all the juices overnight. 

In the morning I removed the skin, leaving a thin layer of fat which I scored to make large diamond shapes. Then I've done small holes in the center of each and tried to insert peppercorns in each. This didn't work out quite well and I didn't have much time really, so later I just patted the rest of peppercorns on top of the glaze before placing the meat into the oven.  Finally, I glazed the joint before placing it in the oven to brown. Cook in a foil-lined roasting pan for approximately 15 min or until the meat is of a lovely and inviting color!

Verdict: I served the meat hot and, at first, didn't exactly like its sweet and savory taste. So, initially, I wanted to give this recipe only 3 stars out of 5.  But the remains of the joint spent the night in the refrigerator and next day we eat it as cold cuts and, in this form, it was delicious. I also liked the simplicity of the recipe and the fact that it can be prepared one night in advance. The combination of bayberries and red peppercorns definitely worked for me - not only it looked really Christmasy,  but the taste they infused was really lovely too. I think I still need to work a bit on the glaze or use the original one next time. So, overall I give it 4* out of 5*.

The next recipe, Potato Gratin with Bacon, was inspired by the one shared by one of my friends on her Facebook page:

It looked really lovely, but a bit blandish and dry as per my taste. So, here we go, I experimented again.

Ingredients:

This potato gratin is not only a treat for the eyes but delicious too!

This potato gratin is not only a treat for the eyes but delicious too!

  • 150g of grated Mozzarella cheese
  • 50g of grated Parmesan like cheese
  • 1.5 cups double cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 big onion chopped
  • 80g of smoked cooking bacon
  • 1 Tbsp of dry thyme and lemon seasoning, salt and black pepper, smoked paprika
  • 6 large potatoes, peeled and sliced on a mandolin slicer 
  • some butter to spread over the pan

Method

Heat the oven to about 190C. Add a bit of butter to the frying pan, then bacon and chopped onion. Fry the mixture until onions start getting this lovely copper color. Set aside to cool.

Combine cheeses, cream, garlic and seasoning (leave 50g of grated cheese to sprinkle over the dish at the end). Then add your bacon and onion mix in. Add potato slices and toss until every slice is covered. It's better to do this with hands, because thin slices stick to each other.

Potato gratin with bacon: last step

Heat the oven to about 190C. Grease a nice heatproof dish with the butter. Organize  the potatoes in the dish as per the picture - vertically and tightly. Then  pour the remaining cheese mixture over the potatoes. The recipe stipulated to cover the potatoes with the sauce only halfway to achieve crispiness. I put in all the remaining mixture - not only it's economical, but, also, I don't mind my potatoes soft and absorbing all the lovely tastes of the bacon and garlic cheese. Cover the dish tightly with the foil and put into the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and continue baking the potatoes until they are golden brown for another 30-45 minutes.

Verdict: Absolutely yummy! Goes into my recipe book.

Well, my last experiment during Christmas dinner was not successful really.  I found the recipe of Pine Cone Salad on-line and though the recipe itself didn't sound particularly inspiring, I really liked how it was decorated. So, I went with the completely different salad altogether (chicken, pineapples, celery, mushrooms and walnuts in a mixture of cream-fraiche and mayo). But the decoration itself appeared to be a rather time consuming and ungrateful task, somehow my salad didn't want to look like on the original picture at all. Also, all the almonds on top start to overpower the salad eventually. Ultimately, I don't even want to share the full recipe, so that nobody else wastes his time. This one is off my books!

I think Mike, one of my twins, is demanding attention! Sorry, but I will have to cover my New Year's Eve experiments next time. Wishing you all great kitchen adventures!