Category Archives: For the Keen Cook

Salted Caramel Sauce

A very quick post today as I know some people are eagerly awaiting this recipe for Salted Caramel Sauce. It’s simple once you know how and absolutely amazing! I have had to restrain myself from simply eating it from the jar! 

Makes 1 jar

250ml double cream

1 cup granulated sugar

1tsp salt

– Pour the cream into a small pan and heat to just short of boiling. Turn off the heat and set aside. 

– Place the sugar in one flat layer in a large, heavy bottomed pan. You need it to be much bigger than you think as when you combine the ingredients it can bubble up and rise to nearly 10 times the height! Also, thin pans mean that the sugar may quickly burn as the heating is more intense. Heat your sugar on a LOW heat. It will take time (about 8 minutes to start to melt) but if you heat it too intensely then the sugar may burn and cause problems for you. Do Not Stir!

– Once about 8 minutes has gone by you should be able to see the sugar melting around the edges. At this point you can gently turn the sugar so the melted stuff on the bottom comes on top and the solid sugar on top gets to the bottom. Your sugar should be turning from white to golden caramel. Don’t rush, it will get there. 

-Once your sugar is all melted with no lumpy bits take it off the heat. 

– Pour half your hot cream into the sugar. It WILL bubble, spit and rise up. Stir vigorously the whole time. 

– When it has died back down pour the remaining cream in, remembering to keep stirring. It will usually rise and spit again. It will look like a lumpy mess. This is normal. 

– Return the pan to a low heat and keep stirring. The lumpy mess will slowly melt back in and you will get a smooth pale caramel sauce. This will probably take about 10 minutes. If you have any huge lumps it may take longer but they will eventually dissolve. You don’t want the mixture to boil so keep it on a nice low heat and it will get there! 

– When you have a nice, smooth sauce sprinkle over the salt and give it a good mix then pour into a heat proof container. 

– I store mine at room temperature but that’s because it doesn’t last long at all! If you plan to be more restrained in your consumption then you can keep it in the fridge but be aware that it will stiffen at a lower temperature. 

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Filed under Basic, Desserts, For the Keen Cook, Gluten Free, Jams and Preserves

Chocolate Truffles

These Chocolate Truffles need to come with a warning.  You may make them as gifts but you will want to keep them!!!! They are so tasty!  These Truffles consist of a silky smooth ganache in the centre and a crisp chocolate shell around the outside.  They are also incredibly versatile, you can change the flavours up as easy as anything and you really can use any chocolate here, I’ve gone for a simple milk chocolate with either milk or white shells but so long as you grasp the underlying principles they you should be able to do just about anything with this!

Chocolate Truffles

What is important is to choose the best chocolate you can and get one with the simplest list of ingredients.  You have more wiggle room for the ganache but for the outsides you do not want any weird ingredients at all, you want cocoa solids (or mass), cocoa butter, sugar and milk along with the regular stabiliser and vanilla if it’s white chocolate.  That’s it.  No vegetable fat, certainly no hazelnut paste!  That stuff is a nightmare to try and work with.  Working with chocolate doesn’t have to be complicated and you really don’t need any special equipment at all, just a few tricks!

Chocolate TrufflesChocolate Truffles

The way to mix up the flavours is to maintain the ratio of chocolate to liquid.  I’ve specified cream, and you probably want the majority of the liquid to remain cream, but you could use orange juice, jam, Baileys, Cointreau, etc!  Just keep the liquid to half the quantity of chocolate and you’re safe.  Then for the outsides you want just a little bit more than went into the insides.  If you’re frugal you can do exactly the same but I’d rather this be easy for you so go a little over!  You can scale the recipe up or down, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to work with less than 200g of chocolate as it’s much harder to maintain the temperature with a small amount.

Chocolate Truffles

That’s what working with chocolate is all about, manipulating the temperature.  Chocolate behaves in certain ways at certain temperatures and we want to get it to exactly the right temperature to make it do what we want!  Too hot or too cold and you run the risk of the chocolate blooming, forming white blobs and streaks, or just not setting for hours.  If you get it right then your chocolate should set again, shiny and smooth in around 5 minutes at room temperature.

Chocolate Truffles

Makes ~40 truffles

300g milk chocolate
150ml cream
25g butter

Making Your Ganache Filling:

– Weigh out your chocolate into a plastic bowl.  Pyrex or similar retain the heat, which makes things hard, so work with plastic bowls if at all possible.
– Break it up into small chunks.
– Measure out the butter and cut it into small pieces, add to the chocolate.
– In a small saucepan measure out the cream and then bring to a boil.  You want plenty of room in your pan as that cream is going to rise up considerably!  Watch it like a hawk and when you get to the “Oh Shit!” point take it off the heat and pour straight over the chocolate and butter.
– Very gently poke the chocolate so that it is all below the level of the cream and gently wiggle it so that it works its way into the bottom of the bowl.  DO NOT STIR YET!
– Leave the bowl to sit for a few minutes to allow all of the chocolate to soften.
– NOW you can stir it!
– To get all of the lumps out, gently work them against the side of the bowl with the back of the spoon and keep mixing until you have a silky smooth ganache.
– Pour the ganache into a piping bag ( or two if necessary, leave enough room to secure the end with a twist.
– Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes (up to 48 hours) to allow it to harden.
– Once they have chilled cover a baking tray with foil and snip the end off your piping bag leaving about a 1cm hole.
– Pipe out portions of your ganache into blobs, spacing them apart.  They don’t have to be pretty at this stage, just about equal.
– Put the tray back in the fridge for 20 minutes or so.
– Once cool pick up each truffle and very quickly roughly shape into a round ball using the tips of your fingers.  Don’t use your palms and work quick as the warmer your chocolate gets the messier and more slippery this gets!
– Place the truffle back down as soon as its done and move on to the next.

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200g white chocolate
200g milk chocolate

Tempering Your Chocolate: 

– Put your covering chocolate in a bowl (work on each kind of chocolate separately)  and very gradually microwave it for 20 second intervals, stirring each time between.  You want to stop heating your chocolate when it is about 80% melted, 20% lumpy.  Then you simply work the lumps out by squishing them against the side of the bowl with the back of the spoon until it is all smooth.  You do not want your chocolate to get too hot.  In fact, if you touch a drop of melted chocolate to your lip it should feel cool!
– When you have all of your chocolate smooth it should still be liquid but not moving too fast.  Our first test to see if it is the correct temperature (called tempered) is the ribbon test:
– Take a spoonful of chocolate and drizzle it over the bowl.  The drizzled chocolate should stand proud on top of the melted chocolate in a ribbon.  When you give the bowl a little shake it should disappear back into the smooth pool of melted chocolate.
– The second test is to take a cocktail stick or coffee stirrer and dip it in to the chocolate.  Place it on the worksurface and check it in 5 minutes.  It should be set solid without any streaks or spots.  If it is still liquid, your chocolate is too hot, test it again.  This test allows you to see how your chocolate is behaving and make sure that you are ready to work with it.
– If your chocolate starts to cool and isn’t very liquid anymore then give it another 20 second blast in the microwave to raise the heat a little and give it a good stir.  Check again using the tests above each time you do this to ensure your chocolate is ok to work with.

Dipping Your Truffles:

– When you know your chocolate is tempered take a truffle, drop it into the chocolate and gently use a fork to scoop underneath it, move it about until it is fully coated and then scoop it out, allowing the excess chocolate to drain off.  DO NOT STAB THE TRUFFLE, SCOOP IT!
– Gently tip the truffle back onto the tray.
– Apply any decorations you might like while the chocolate is wet.
– Repeat with each remaining truffle.
– By the time you are finished the first truffles should be set hard with a lovely shiny finish.  Allow them all to stand until they are all hard.
– Simply pick them up and package them as gifts or set on a tray to serve to guests!

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(I’m not going to lie, my chocolate was a little too cool to be working with here, hence the swirls, but it was late and I was in a hurry!)

 

 

 

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Filed under For the Keen Cook, Sweets

Pre-Christmas Dinner 2011

Since I have already had my Pre-Christmas Dinner for 2012 I thought I had really better publish the Menu from 2011!  I had got all caught up in the hecticness of Christmas last year and by the time January rolled around I thought I may as well publish this in December as inspiration for anyone needing it for their Christmas cooking.

Christmas has, once again, got the better of me!

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We had a starter of Lobster Thermidor I have to confess, I didn’t like it!  I didn’t care for the herbs and the lobsters I’d bought, were rather disappointing little things.  I didn’t have high hopes for them, they seemed too good to be true, and, while very impressive visually to serve, I thought they were rather lacking in the flavour department.  As you will see above, my sister, being a vegetarian, got a square of puff pastry filled with creamy mushrooms and did not have to eat any defenceless sea creatures.

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For our main course I took my inspiration from The 12 Days of Christmas and served roast partridge with pears and seasonal vegetables.

The partridge were shot specially for my by arrangement with our lovely local butcher.  I have to say, I got rather squeamish about them and their little feet and had to draft in my father to sort that out for me.  You also have to be careful to search out any shot that ti still in them.  They’re tiny little pellets but they’re hell on the teeth if found that way!

I wrapped my partridge with streaky bacon, having rubbed them all over with a herb butter and stuffed them with a handfull of thyme sprigs and a clove of garlic.  They are small and can dry out so the herb butter was generous and the bacon served to both add flavour and retain moistness.

The partridge and the pears were roasted at Gas mark 6 for 45-50 minutes.  I erred on the side of caution with cooking these as I needed them to be cooked through.  I knew from a trial run that a supermarket bought one took 45 mins but that was smaller than these wild ones.

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Finally, for dessert we had a Clementine Syllabub. I had specially bought a sweet dessert wine to go in and with this.  It proved undrinkable!  However, as a dessert it was lovely.

It’s a brilliantly quick dessert to whip up.  You simply whip a small (300ml) tub of cream with 4tbsp icing sugar and 200ml sweet wine until it forms soft peaks.  Then you stir in a tin of drained clementine segments (mandarin segments will do just as well) reserving a few whole ones for decoration.

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So, there you are.  Hopefully it may provide a little inspiration if you are in need of any for your upcoming festivities.  I will now try to get this year’s menu published at some point before Christmas Day!

Merry Christmas!

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Filed under Christmas, Desserts, For the Keen Cook, Mains, Starters

Four Layer Chocolate Cake with American Frosting

As this is my 300th post, apparently, I thought it suitable that I post one of my more impressive creations to date.  I baked it to practice a few different techniques and my colleagues were more than happy to be my test subjects!

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That reads “Anna’s Chocolate Cake” for those in any doubt.  Piping skills was one of the things I wanted to work on.  Actually, I’ll be honest, the icing picked up a lot of crumbs and wasn’t as clean and as I wanted it to be so I thought I’d disguise it by putting a bunch of busy swirls and things on top and, incidentally, thought ‘great, I wanted to practice that!’

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I had decided ages ago that I wanted to make a multilayer cake.  At about the same time my trusty victoria sponge tins decided to start parting with their nonstick atributes.  I decided to treat myself to 4 silicone ones so that I could make a multilayer cake without having to slice, which I am notoriously wonky at.  I think they were an excellent investment, I’m really happy with them so far.

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I also thought I would give American Frosting a go.  My mother warned me that it was rather tricky stuff but I wanted that glorious clean, white look and the soft peaks and ripples really appealed to me.  It was, indeed, tricky.  Very very sticky and it lifted a lot of crumbs from the cake.  A lot of that was my (lack of) technique but it is just plain sticky!  I would definitely use this on a cupcake in the future but I would need to practice a good few more cakes like this before I was happy with it.

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Serves 16 easily

For the cake:
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs (weighing approximately 250g)
250g self raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp milk

For the American Frosting:

300g caster sugar
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 large egg whites

Chocolate decorations (about 50g melted chocolate made all of these decorations)

– First, make the cake.  Heat the oven to gas mark 4 and grease 4 8″ sandwich tins.
– Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
– Gradually add the eggs, mixing well between additions.
– Add the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and mix to combine.
– Add the milk and mix until smooth.
– Divide the mixture equally between the cake tins.  Easiest way is to eyeball it first then weigh each one altering them until they are all within a gram or two of each other.
– Bake for 20 minutes on two shelves, switching shelves after 10 minutes.
–  Test with a skewer to check each layer is cooked through  then turn out onto wire racks and leave to cool.
– When you’re ready to assemble your cake start the icing.
– Place all of the ingredients in a large, heatproof bowl.
– Place the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water and beat lightly until the sugar is dissolved and you can’t feel any grains.
– Use an electric hand mixer to whisk the mixture until it forms stiff peaks.
– Then remove from the heat and continue to whisk until cool.  (Or, until you get bored and wander off, whichever happens first, ahem.)
– To assemble the cake place the first layer on your serving plate and top with a dollop of frosting.  Carefully but quickly spread this out to close to the edges.  Try not to go over a spot more than once.  Just smooth and move on.
– Repeat with the remaning layers until you reach the top.  You should have about half the frosting left.
– Generously frost the top of the cake, being a little more artistic withthe swirls this time.  Again, try to only make one pass.
– Smooth the remaining icing round the sides with a palate knife to create a smooth side.  Make sure the frosting on the top and sides joins together and meets the plate at the bottom.
– Decorate as you wish.
Once iced this will keep uncut for a few days before serving.

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Filed under Basic, Cakes, For the Keen Cook

Chicken Thighs Stuffed With Mushrooms

I am willing to admit that my naming skills aren’t great but this dish is exactly as it sounds. May be we should christen it Chicken Anna or something just to make it sound fancy but I can hardly have been the first person to come up with this idea, surely?

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It sounds simple enough but it is a little bit fiddly to put together.  Nothing complex, but the step by step just takes a little while to prepare, which you know I don’t susually favour.  The results are totally worth it though!

The earthy umami of the mushrooms is really brought to the fore and the flavour that you get from using chicken thigh, rather than the more popular breast, is wonderful.  Proper streaky bacon to swaddle it in and keep all of those delicious flavours together gives it another little flavour burst.  Served with fresh vegetables and a rich, creamy sauce I think that this dish will prove very popular in my family in the future and well worth the effort!

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Serves 4

30g dried porcini mushrooms
200g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped
splash of white wine (~3tbsp)
4 large chicken thighs*
16 rashers streaky bacon
50g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
200ml double cream

(*The supermarket packs of chicken thighs will probably only get you 3 large ones, so you need to either buy two packets to get large ones, piece together several smaller thighs or go to a proper butcher who can help you get exactly what you need.)

– Cover the dried porcini in 300ml of boiling water and leave to soak for 15 mins then drain, reserving the liquid, and roughly chop.
– Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and add the mushrooms, seasoning well with salt and pepper.
– Cook until starting to brown then add the chopped porcini.
– Add the wine and simmer, stirring frequently, until the liquid is gone.
– Carefully pour the liquid left from the procini over the mushrooms, being careful not to add any grit.
– Simmer, stirring frequently, until all of the liquid has evaporated.
– Leave to cool.

– Heat the oven to gas mark 6/200C.
– Trim any of the fatty bits from your chicken thighs.
– Cover the chicken thighs with some strong cling film and bash the thicker parts of the thigh with a rolling pin to flatten to a more even thichness all over.  You want to retain the rectangular shape as much as you can so place your blows carefully.
– Place 4 rashers of streaky bacon on a chopping board.  Layer them slightly so that they form one sheet.
– Place your chicken thigh on top, centre facing upwards.  If using several smaller thighs, jigsaw it together as best as you can.
– Add a few spoonfuls of mushroom mixture along the centre.  You will not use all of the mushroom mixture.  You should have at least 1/3 left over.  Set aside until you make the sauce.

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– Carefully pull the chicken thighs up over the mushroom layer.  It should just about meet.
– Then wrap the bacon rashers one at a time around the chicken thigh so that it completely encloses the meat and keeps the mushrooms from spilling out the ends.
– Place in an oven proof dish and cook in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes.  You want the insides to be totally cooked with no pink to the juices.

– To make the sauce first heat a splash of oil in a saucepan.
– Add the sliced mushrooms and a pinch of salt and stir until cooked.
– Add the remaining mushroom mixture from the filling and cook until everything is hot.
– Add the cream and heat until piping hot.
– Season to taste then serve over the stuffed chicken thighs.  I served them with pommes Anna, grilled asparagus, chantenay carrots and a nice Chablis!

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Filed under For the Keen Cook, Mains

Crab

I have no idea what happened but I actually wrote this post back in February but never posted it… sorry about that! Better late than never!

Last week I was walking through Newgate Market in York and spied the fishmongers.  Now, I often flirt with the idea of fish but Japan spoiled me a bit coz everything there was perfect.  One of my favourite izakaya dishes was a simple crab salad.  Crisp iceberg lettuce, a tangy citrus dressing and the body and claws of what I have since been informed were Spider Crabs.  The crab I bought off the market was just a common or garden crab, but still, one crab is much the same as another in essentials!  I named my crab Claude. 

As for what to do with your crab, well, yes, you can buy a crab ready taken apart and dressed… my way is a lot more fun!  The best advice I can give you, however, is to google “how to dress a crab” and watch a few different videos.  Seeing how it’s done a few times will be much more helpful than anything I could write here.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make my own video or even a step by step.  However, I did want to document the process here as a point of reference if nothing else. 

So, without further ado let’s get to it!  This is a bit of a fiddly job and rather messy so leave yourself plently of time and space.  Crab shell is also exceedingly sharp and your hands will get damp and soft so watch yourself and try not to cut yourself too badly… a few little nicks are inevitable I’m afraid!

Serves 2 if you serve it as a salad, or you can do any number of things with the meat. 

– 1 whole cooked crab.  Ask your fishmonger to remove the “dead man’s fingers” as they are poisonous. 

– With the crab on his back, twist/pull his legs and claws off.  Set aside. 


– Turn your crab over onto his front with his tail facing towards you.  Get your thumbs and press up against the body of the crab to separate the upper and lower halves.  NB. If you have had the “dead man’s fingers” removed then it should already be cracked open a bit.
– Take the upper half of the crab and again use your thumbs to press against the mouth parts (under his eyes) and push until it snaps back, peel back to remove the stomach too. 


– Take a teaspoon and scrape out the top half of the shell to remove the brown meat.  Set aside the brown meat in a bowl. 
– Take a very sharp large knife and cut the lower body of the crab in half, then in half again if you want. 
– Using a fondue fork (or special crab stick things) pick out the chunks of white meat found in all the nooks and crannies, again, set aside in a bowl.  This is tricky and fiddly so take your time.  You want to get all of the stringy meat out.  If it feels hard then you don’t want it. 
– Now for the claws!  Get your claw and place it on a board.  Cover it with a teatowel.  Bash it with a rolling pin to crack the shell.  You should be able to crack it with one good blow.  You don’t want to smash it to smithereens but you need a reasonable amount of force behind the blow.  Crab shell is sharp so the teatowel stops bits of shell from flying everywhere. 


– Bash all of the joints in turn so you can get in there with your hands and break the legs apart.  Remove the bigger bits of white meat with your fingers, pulling it off the central clear spike.  The thinner parts can be removed with your fondue fork/crab stick. 
– Once you’ve done all of the legs and claws and got every bit of meat out then you can do what you wish with it!

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Filed under Basic, For the Keen Cook

Turkey Wellington

Ok, the pièce de résistance for my pre-Christmas dinner the Turkey Wellington!  I wanted to serve something that was traditional, so Turkey, but I didn’t want to do a whole turkey because that’s for Christmas dinner at my parents’.  I also wanted something really show offy!  Now, this dish is complicated.  But none of the steps are, in and of themselves, complicated.  It’s just a matter of following the process through a step at a time.  Now, to break this down I even stopped to take photos, my camera loves flour, really! 

Serves about 8 I’d say.  Or 4 with plenty of leftovers (makes a cracking sandwich!)

~1.6kg Turkey breast (freezer section in Tescos!) defrosted
~900g streaky bacon, rindless (3 packs of Tesco value rind on streaky bacon for me)
500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

For the stuffing:
2 onions, finely chopped
knob of butter
350g minced turkey
250g sausages, skinned (just use your favourites, Coop Lincolnshire for me!)
2 eggs, beaten
150g dried cranberries
150g unsweetened chestnut puree
100g fresh white breadcrumbs

– First take your turkey breast and remove the skin and any gross bits. (Yes, I’m 5). 
– Then trim the breast to make it more of a cylinder. 
– Tie the breast with string.  (I sort of followed this video but fudged the first bit coz I didn’t follow.) 

Trim and tie your turkey breast.

– Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a very large frying pan. 
– Season the breast then place in the pan and brown evenly on all sides. 
– Set aside to cool. 

Pan fry the breast until golden brown.

– Now for the stuffing!
– Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan. 
– Add the onions and cook til soft.  Leave to cool. 
– Mix the minced turkey and sausage meat in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Easiest with your hands, use a spoon if you’re squeamish!
– Add the eggs and mix until thick and smooth. 
– Mix in the onion, cranberries, chestnut puree and breadcrumbs and seasoning and mix until everything is evenly distributed. 
– Set aside. 

– Roll out your pastry on a floured surface until it is about 45cmx45cm.  Size it up so it will wrap around your turkey. 
– Place your bacon over the pastry, laying it so there are no gaps, leaving a few centimeters at the edges.  Keep back about 5 rashers. 

Cover the pastry in bacon.- Spread the stuffing over the bacon, reserving a few heaped spoonfulls. Spread the stuffing over the bacon.

– Place the turkey in the centre of the pastry, topside down. 

Place the Turkey in the centre topside down.

– Spread the remaining stuffing on top of the turkey.   
– Gently pick up the bacon and fold it over the turkey.  Do this a bit at a time, pressing it to hold it in place. 
– Use the remaining 5 bacon rashers to cover the gap. 

Wrap it in bacon.

– Fold one long side of the pastry up and over the top. 
– Brush the edge  with egg. 
– Fold the second edge up and press to seal the two edges together. 
– Now brush the sides with egg and fold up, press to seal. 

Fold up the pastry.

– Next, carefully roll/lift it onto a greased baking tray. 
– Use the egg to stick any decorations you want to the top. 

Flip onto tray and decorate!

– Set aside until you want to cook it. 
– Preheat the oven to Gas mark 6/200C. 
– Brush with egg and pop it in the oven for 1 hour 25 minutes.  Unfortunately there’s no way to check it for doneness so if you happen to cut into it and it looks a little pink, bung it back in the oven. 
– After the 1 hour 25 minutes take it out of the oven and leave it to rest for 20 minutes. 
– Use two large fish slices to carefully lift it onto a carving board. 
– Slice and serve. 

Serve with as many trimmings as you wish!

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Filed under Christmas, For the Keen Cook, Mains