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Thursday 25 December 2014

Christmas Dinner... Pizza-style

In a recent post, I explored the possibility of turning the humble pizza - whose leftovers can so often form a 'breakfast of champions' the morning after - into an actual all-day breakfast, with surprisingly good results. Coincidentally I had a similar sort of thing on my recent trip to LA, eating a 'Sunny Side Up Bacon and Potato' pizza - a seasonally inspired special at California Pizza Kitchen. Pizza is, after all, one of the most universally adaptable forms of food.

So, when my girlfriend and I started discussing how we would deal with Christmas dinner - since one of us would certainly not be partaking of the traditional turkey - one of the earliest suggestions, directly inspired by the All Day Breakfast idea, was 'Christmas Dinner Pizza'.

The most obvious necessity for my pizza was Gilbert's Turkey Roll Pastrami (bought at Morrisons) which, with its black pepper-coating, has made for some rather tasty sandwiches for my lunches during the working week. After that, it was a case of determining what other Christmas Dinner staples should be included. Potato would have involved rather too much wastage, sprouts and most other veg were easy passes. What I really wanted to include, somehow, was stuffing and cranberry sauce. We'd picked up some dried cranberries for some cookies that we've baked to take over to my folks tomorrow, but just adding dried fruit to the pizza seemed weird. Thankfully, I noticed, nestled in our fridge, a pack of Yorkshire Wensleydale with cranberries (also from Morrisons), and so chopped off a few small pieces to scatter around.

I'm a huge fan of 'pigs in blankets' - small pork sausages wrapped in streaky bacon - which tend to be served as part of Christmas dinner at my folks', so I also bought a pack of them - eight were arranged on the pizza, the last two in the pack were left separate. Upon reflection, I think I probably should have picked up the 12-pack rather than the 10-pack, since that would have given me four overs, which could have been kept aside for our evening meal.

The final ingredient was an idea borrowed from my girlfriend - she'd added pickled red cabbage to her vegetarian version of a Christmas pizza (featuring pieces of a Quorn 'Turkey' Burger), which made it all nice and colourful, so I figured I'd add some to mine as well.
Before. Note that the pigs in blankets had already had about 10 minutes in
the oven prior to being added to the pizza for this shot. The stuffing had
been cooked separately, according to its own instructions
So, after about 10-12 minutes in my oven, the pigs in blankets were done to perfection, the Wensleydale and cranberry had melted into the mozzarella, the stuffing was nicely crisped, and the end result looked like this:
After... But before I scoffed it all down. Obviously.
I must confess to some surprise that this turned out as well as it did - particularly with the addition of the Wensleydale with cranberry (that, being such an unusual and late addition to the range of flavours, was the wild card, but the overall effect worked very well). I mean, OK, it's unlikely that I'd ever complain about something involving pigs in blankets, I already knew the turkey pastrami was nice (rather more moist than the average roast turkey!), and stuffing is little more than additional herbs... but there was plenty of room for it to be terrible simply because it's a bit of a jumble.

The only thing that did go slightly wrong was the pickled cabbage, which could have done with a bit more draining before it was chucked onto the pizza, as it ended up soaking right through and causing a damp patch in the middle of the base.

I had been a little concerned about the stuffing, as my girlfriend started preparing the whole packet, where I'd intended only to make a small amount, rolling into balls to distribute around the pizza. However, even once cooked in an oven-proof dish, the stuffing below the crisp surface remains moist and malleable, and easily stands up to further time in the oven. I ended up not shaping it as it was still rather hot when we started making the pizzas, but I think that just adds to the 'hand-made charm' of my pizza.

A decidedly tasty and tidy Christmas dinner, with very little washing up required afterward... and so another success for pizza as a method of preparation.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Chicken Tenders with Jim Beam

Say what you will about Iceland in general, they do manage to get some quite interesting exclusive products. I haven't visited my local store in ages but, in the run-up to Christmas, with their ramped-up advertising (always hindered by the obligatory b-list 'celeb' - currently Peter Andre - intended, no doubt, to add some form of glamour to the proceedings) my girlfriend and I decided to pop over for some freezable Christmas foodstuffs, so we wouldn't have to worry so much about shopping for fresh stuff - or doing proper cooking - this weekend and over the Christmas period. What with visiting both sides of the family while I'm away from work, I think we've got things planned out pretty well - including an original (yet wholly predictable) take on our Chrimbletide dinner.

While perusing the selection at Iceland, I noticed almost an entire freezer cabinet devoted to boxes featuring the Jim Beam logo and, while I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of bourbon - if I'm going to drink whiskey, I tend to prefer the Scottish kind - my previous encounter with a bourbon sauce was exceedingly pleasant. I didn't immediately pick up a box of these tenders because they didn't really fit with my Christmas plans and my freezer space is very limited. Picking them up was more of a "what the hell, why not?" moment, since I occasionally need a meaty accompaniment to one of the vegetarian dishes my girlfriend cooks.

I'd have to say that the breaded chicken is nothing to write home about - this ain't no KFC-style herb and spice fest - and the 380g box contains only seven or eight of them. They're a decent size, but the packaging's claim that it serves two is either very optimistic, or assuming use as a starter or as part of a larger main course.

Or maybe I'm still recovering from American portions, following my recent holiday in Los Angeles..?

The Jim Beam sauce is the only thing that raises this package anywhere above 'decidedly plain', and it raises it a hell of a way. The moment the sauce sachet is opened, you'll get a whiff of the boozy barbecue sauce and, if that's the sort of thing you like, this is sure to be a winner. It brings that familiar warming sensation from the first scent, yet retains the classic spicy, smoky fruitiness of a good barbecue sauce. In that sense, it's probably a good thing that the chicken is so plain, since strongly seasoned meat/breadcrumb would get in the way of the sauce.

I poured the sauce all over my chicken tenders but, upon reflection, suspect I may have been better off decanting the sauce into a pot - as illustrated by the packaging - and simply dipping the tenders. Thinking back to my holiday, one of the meals which defeated me was a plate stacked high with chicken tenders, which was served with (if I remember correctly) mashed potato and corn succotash... that sort of thing would go very well with this product, so I may be tempted to pick up another box once the freezer has cleared out a bit after Christmas.

There are a few other items in the range which look appealing - the ribs in particular, though if I do end up trying them, I fully expect it to be due to a triumph of optimism over experience. Watch this space.

On the other hand, since Jim Beam produce barbecue sauces separately, maybe I'll just get some of that...