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Tag Archives: Meat

Compiling My Perfect Cheeseboard

I both love cheese and am a bit funny with it at the same time. I like it cooked (hot and melted) but I’m not overly keen on it just on its own. Except with certain cheeses in certain circumstances. As with most things, I’m basically just picky! I didn’t grow up eating cheese (I wasn’t allowed it, don’t ask but yes, a children’s birthday party at Pizza Hut when I was little was just cruel when I wasn’t allowed to eat the pizza! Twice!)

I spent some time when I was 19 working on the deli counter in a Booths supermarket up in Lancaster. They’re family owned, all in the North West and often called “The Waitrose of the North”. I think they’re better than Waitrose but then I was fully indoctrinated! I spent large parts of my time asking anyone local who ordered Wensleydale to repeat themselves because it sounded like something off of Wallace and Gromit. Such fun. I spent the rest of my time tasting cheese, learning about it, sampling it and plotting cheeseboard meals to rival those we had at The Water Witch in Lancaster – they don’t appear to do them anymore sadly.

I’m not really a ‘little bit of cheese with a couple of crackers and a grape after dessert’ kind of girl, I’m more about an entire meal centered around cheese. There are no recipes here as such, just my musings and product recommendations on how I like to put together a cheese feast.

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The Cheese

It seems churlish not to start with the star ingredient. The cheese. As I said, I’m picky. In brief, I don’t eat any cheese that isn’t made with cows milk (especially goat’s cheese which I think tastes like licking a barnyard floor – bleugh! but also ewe milk so feta, manchego, etc.), I don’t eat blue cheese (have you ever tried to cut Dolcelatte on a hangover? Try it and you’ll never eat the stuff either) and I’m not crazy keen on very hard cheeses, especially very strong ones. Whilst I love rind ripened soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert, I don’t eat the rind so I have an elaborate ritual of cutting it off as I’m eating it. Maybe one day I’ll grow up and like it but maybe not!

Where to Purchase – Now you can of course go to a fancy cheese deli and purchase a multitude of fancy cheeses in one place but I’m not made of money so for the above pictured board I went to a few different places including M&S and Sainsbury’s to put it together. I’ve tried to make all of my links in this post supermarket orientated so they’re easy for everyone to find but smaller independents should have a lot of these too. The top supermarket trick is however to head to the cheese counter rather than the pre-packaged section. Firstly, you can get smaller chunks of more cheeses – variety is the spice of life after all. Secondly, the same cheese will usually be cheaper at the counter than on the shelf. Double check first tho.

Storage – Before I get down to the nitty gritty, some quick thoughts on storage. Cheese should be stored in the fridge. It shouldn’t however be stored in plastic as it’ll sweat. Ideally on getting home, you’ll unwrap the cheese and wrap it in wax paper or more likely, greaseproof paper then put it in the fridge. A lot of supermarkets, especially M&S do however now pre-wrap their cheese in breathable plastic – the wrapper tends to be baggy rather than clingy and has a matt, slightly waxy texture. Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge at least 20/30 minutes before serving to come to room temperature – probably slightly longer for a soft cheese like Brie and Camembert.

Presentation – You can of course just stick the blocks of cheese on a board with a couple of knives and be done with it. I have however become a fan of pre-slicing some chunks of harder cheeses, especially if serving a crowd buffet style.  This cuts down on weird cutting practices and folks standing around waiting while one person goes to town. Don’t cut more than you think will be eaten on the first round, more can be cut on an ongoing basis as the board is revisited.  I don’t tend to pre-cut soft cheese but sometimes present it in two smaller halves. I have a friend who is convinced that it is super rude when attacking cheese to cut off the ‘nose’ or as I’d call it; ‘pointy’ bit of the cheese as that is the premium cut (the soft gooey bit in the very middle). This always seems to lead to some very elaborate side cutting and I’ve never fully cleared up at what point ‘the nose’ can in fact be consumed! I work on the basis of ‘you snooze, you lose’. Crack on.

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The Range – I’d recommend picking a cheese from each of the following categories for a very full and well rounded cheese board. A lot of cheeseboard compilers always seem to say…pick one or two great cheeses and keep it simple. Sod that! As far as I’m concerned – its all about the variety – trying something different whilst getting to indulge in some old favourites. And you know what, if you want to serve three different varieties of brie, then do that too.

Soft CheeseBrie, Camembert or even Stinking Bishop. Even better – Waterloo – the buttery god of soft cheeses. You can obviously go with a stinky french Brie De Meaux for authenticity (sometimes these taste a big ‘cabbagey’ to me) or try one of the many English made Bries such as Cornish Organic (the organic one is far superior to the regular one if you can get it). M&S used to do an amazing ‘Brie cheese’ (as its known in my house) but sadly they discontinued it and we shall forever mourn its loss.  Whichever you choose, make sure that there is no chalky core to the cheese and that is it oozy the whole way through. Leave it at room temp to ripen to ooey-gooey stage if needs be.

Medium Hard Cheese – These are your Cheddar, Double Gloucester, Cheshire and Lancashire type cheeses. My preference is a creamy Lancashire (there are a lot of varieties of Lancashire but very few are widely available). Cheshire is rather tangy and quite crumbly, nor my favourite. Folk tend to love a strong cheddar that bites back – look for something farmhouse made or for a strong Lancashire – the ever popular Grandma Singletons.  If you really can’t decide – go for some retro Stripy Jack/5 Counties for ultimate variety.

Smoked Cheese – Something a little different on the palette. The perennial favourite is Applewood but if you’re snobby about it (it is heavily processed and fake smoked) go for something like the Hickory Red Leicester from M&S (no online link). There are many Bavarian style smoked cheeses or Austrian ones in sausage shapes available from the supermarkets too.

Goat Cheese – God only knows why but folk do seem to enjoy a bit of chevre. You’ll see that some sneaked onto the above board to satisfy my housemate’s love of barnyard flavours. There is a whole world of goat’s cheese out there but I have little knowledge about it so I’m not best based to advise!

Blue Cheese – Again not really my cup of tea but I do know there is a massive variety of blue cheese out there. There are the creamy Dolcelatte and Gorgonzolas, brie style blues like Cambozola, harder blues like Shropshire Blue and of course the perennial favourite Stilton. I’d probably choose a style of blue in place of another style unless picking a stilton. Oh and by the way, you can now buy ‘Light Blue Cheese Triangles’. What has the world come too.

Flavoured Cheese – This is something that people can be a bit snobby about but these can sometimes be my favourite cheeses.  Wendsleydale with Cranberries, White Stilton with Apricot and Double Gloucester with Onion and Chive are probably the most ubiquitous. For the above board I tried some Wensleydale with Date and Orange and it was amazing. I’m also a fan of Red Leicester Whirl with Garlic and I’m not above a bit of roule. There is a whole world of flavoured cheeses to try…it’s hard to go to any kind of food market without finding at least one stall full of wax covered truckles with weird flavour cheese – Snowdonia is probably the most prevalent.  Some others that used to be super popular at Booths were Bowland, Sage Derby and White Stilton with Lemon.

The Rest – There are of course a million other options. I can’t make a cheese board without the semi-soft Port Salut – I do prefer the big chunk rather than the small whole cheese. If you can find the real thing on a cheese counter however – jump on it – its a world apart and delicious.  I also like to go for what I’d term a ‘rubbery cheese’ – something like Jarlsberg or Gouda. Or there are a multitude of creamy continental options like Doux de Montagne and a whole mass of harder options like Comte, Gruyere and Manchego (ewes milk). If you’re not sure – go to a cheese counter, ask for a recommendation and try some options before committing. Oh and last but not least, if I have any Graceburn Cheese in, that is definitely going on the board (in a ramekin!)

What to avoid – There are some cheeses that are just not overly suited to a cheese board but that’s not too say you can’t add them if you want to but I wouldn’t bother unless you feel strongly about it. I won’t put a Parmesan/Pecorino on a cheese board – its too strong and too dry  – best saved for grating over pasta in my book. Cream and cottage cheeses including Ricotta and Mascarpone  aren’t really practical. Similarly, Mozzarella, even the super expensive buffalo milk kind and the delicious Burrata isn’t a great cheeseboard option – best kept for savouring on its own or with a little (a lot) parma ham – it’ll be overpowered in this situation. Halloumi (which has a heady combination of goat, ewe and cow milks *boke*) is best grilled for a vegetarian and Feta would just be weird. Whilst I am often a fan of reduced fat cheese for things like Mac’n’Cheese, this is not the time or place. Its usually the texture that is compromised and its not good eating. If you’re having a cheeseboard, you’re not dieting so just don’t bother!


The Meat

Obviously my favourite part!

I like to try and go for a selection of cured meats and sausage. In the case of the below selection, I have included serrano ham, mortadella, milano salami and chunky chorizo. There is also a revelation of a product in Sainsburys called Sobrasada De Mallorca which is basically a soft chorizo which a super porky taste which we loved. Which type of ham and which type of sausage you choose is hugely down to personal preference. I would recommend at least one variety of each however. For a spicy kick and alternative to the Sobrasada, a good n’duja (nuh-jew-ah) would be a delight.

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Where and How to Purchase – In exactly the same way as cheese, cured meats are better procured from the deli counter – Morrisons is my preferred affordable option. The meat in Morrisons is generally the most superior supermarket meat (and all British).  Its best to specify with some serious emphasis that any parma ham/serrano ham/prosciutto is sliced extra thin – “oh but it will fall apart” the assistant will say – clearly having never gnawed on a piece of overly thick ham akin to boot leather.  Insist I tell you!  And also ensure that each slice is separated by a piece of film or you’ll find a giant lump of ham that tears into tiny shreds as you try to pull the slices apart. This isn’t such an issue with the salamis and you can slice them as you prefer – I do again prefer them on the thinner side, mostly to not entirely overpower the cheese. This time I went for a chorizo ring sliced into thick chunks to provide another texture. Obviously an independent neighbourhood deli would be an excellent outlet for this sort of thing but unless for a vary rare treat – my budget does not afford me this luxury.

Presentation – There is something to be said for cheeseboards with fruit and cured meats sexily draped around and about the cheese but the practical reality is that that is a pain to eat. And no good if you have any vegetarian’s coming. So I usually present the meats separately – in this case in a enamel tin with the soft chorizo as a focal point in a glass ramekin. I also like to try and give the flat items a bit of a ‘tszuj’ (this is apparently how you spell the word pronounced something like ‘juyz’ or ‘juj’) by folding the salamis into quarters, pinching the middle point together and then putting them on the plate – they should then fan out a bit. Clearly not necessary but it does increase the visual a bit – the same with draping slices of cured ham – much nicer looking than a flat pack of plastic separated slices!


The Bread

All bread is good. I’m especially a fan of the mass produced sliced white bread much hated by food snobs around the world. Bacon sandwiches any other way are basically a travesty. However, even I have to admit that a cheeseboard situation is a time for something a little more refined. I’m a big fan of a ‘cutty’ granary loaf or roll.

In this case, I decided to try a bit of bread baking. With the exception of my old faithful Sodabread and Garlick Tear’n’Share Loaf, bread is not my forte.

With the delightful help of Catie, my latest new housemate/sous-chef, I whipped up a Focaccia with Infused Oil from Perfect Plates, the latest gorgeous book by Bake off Winner John Whaite. Not my most successful bake ever – the dough is super sticky and is probably best made in a stand mixer as advised in the book! My new vintage Kenwood will be tried and tested with the recipe at some point in the near future.

I also made Dan Lepard‘s Alehouse Rolls from Short and Sweet which were very odd to make! The method starts with boiling oats in a whole bottle of ale then leaving this to macerate  for a while.  The rest of the method involved very little kneading but many stages of brief kneads followed by resting periods. Nothing difficult but I should have started baking them at least one, if not two hours earlier. The result was still pretty damn good and the went down a storm but I thought they needed a little more salt. Another one to definitely try again sometime.


The Condiments

You can get the best cheese, the best meat and the best bread but without some well selected condiments, you may as well not have bothered. Ok a bit harsh maybe, unaccompanied cheese is better than no cheese but still a good condiment can elevate the whole thing to another level.

My absolute mainstay is this Caramelized Red Onion Chutney from M&S. I’m not really a chutney girl – I find them too astringent and overpowering so red onion is the way to go for me. I’ve tried a multitude and settled on the M&S option as my preference. I will make a special trip to M&S for it – much easier now a Foodhall has opened in East Dulwich!

My other new favourite condiment is this Spicy Peach Chutney from Waitrose – delicious. Sadly a Waitrose has yet to open nearby (sort it out people) so I’d run out by this cheeseboard day. Now I have a car, I have frequented a number of Waitroses and I’m once again fully stocked!

Last but not least and a discovery on cheeseboard day itself is this Sticky Fig Chutney from Sainsburys.  No hint of cinnamon as it seems to state and no real hint of the apple that is also apparently in there either but figgy and delicious. And great with cheese.


The Rest

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Mushroom Pâté – Now its not often I choose the vegetarian version of something over the meaty version but pâté is one of them (along with haggis). Waitrose used to do an amazing Mushroom and Arborio Rice Pâté on their counters but they seem to have discontinued this a couple of years ago but I’ve recently discovered Castle MacLellan Oven Roasted Mushroom Pâté which is delicious as heck. I’ve tried a couple of supermarket own brand mushroom pâtés which were considerably cheaper of late and they’ve all gone in the bin. This one is available in a few supermarkets, not just Sainsbos.

Salad – As I mentioned in my intro, I prefer salad with my cheese rather than fruit. I tend to go for a fairly strong leaf such as Wild Rocket or Baby Spinach which will stand up to the other strong flavours.  Don’t go to town with this, a good handful will see through quite a crowd.

Bell Peppers – or ‘capsicums’ as my Aussie housemates insist on calling them despite that having all the equivalent precision of calling lilies, tulips and daisies ‘flowers’ or onions, leeks, garlic and ‘allium’. Anyway. Peppers provide a bit of crunch which is otherwise lacking. You could of course go with something like celery but as I’m convinced that no one actually likes celery, don’t. Also, no one like a bitter green pepper so try and stick with yellow, orange or red varieties.

Red Onions – By the time I’ve done with my red onions, they’re no longer providing any crunch and the biting acidity is toned down but I’d not have a cheeseboard without them. The treatment is the same as with my onion topping on my Carrot, Red Lentil and Satay Meal Soup – basically finely slice 1 small Red Onion and add to a bowl with 1 tsp White Sugar and 1 tsp Lime or Lemon Juice and a pinch of Sea Salt Flakes. Gently mix together to coat the onion and set aside for at least 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

Figs – You know how I said no fruit? Well I make an exception for figs (as I am clearly obsessed by the prevalence of them on my blog! Nothing funky required here – just quarter and serve some good ripe figs (if you can get hold of any).  Saying that, a drizzle of honey would be rather delicious….


Final Thoughts

Let me know what you normally do – have I missed anything? Do you think something I do is weird? Any tips?

I’m off to buy some cheese…..

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Chicken, Mushroom, Thyme and Marsala Risotto (2 ways)

Whilst as I mentioned in my last post, December was a bit of a barren wasteland of cooking for me, I did make one new meal when my Godmother Sheila and her Daughter Hilary paid me a visit for lunch between Christmas and New Year. Sheila is a bit of a legend – in her 80s and with a social life to rival most 20-somethings she reminded me on this visit just one of the reasons I love her so much by asking “is the food ready?” barely 1 minute in the door! I think maybe a tiny bit of that directness may have rubbed off on me over the years!  Luckily someone’s penchant for pre-planning has also rubbed off on me and lunch was indeed ready.

I made a risotto to counteract all of the roast meats, veg and potatoes that are ubiquitous with Christmas. I wanted to make something super creamy and rich so I used all of the butter and all of the cream. I freshened it up a little with a topping of fresh rocket leaves and a couple of teaspoons of my favourite Graceburn Cheese. I made the dish again in early January when a friend came over for dinner but this this time I took a more low fat approach to proceedings although I did still garnish it with a little bit of Graceburn.  I have included instructions for both versions within the recipe – the ‘lower fat’ options are within brackets. Risottos are pretty forgiving – don’t worry about the specific quantities too much and feel free to mix and match the higher/lower fat options – use chicken breasts but cream, use chicken thighs but frylight, and trust your instincts – it’ll be just fine.

Serves 2

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Ingredients:

300g Chicken Thigh Fillets – Skinned and Boned (300g Chicken Breast)
2 tbsp Cornflour/Cornstarch
1 Egg White
7 tbsp (105ml) Marsala Wine or Sherry/Maderia
2 tbsp Garlic Paste
2 tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves
2 Medium Onions – red or white
80g Salted Butter (35 sprays Frylight)
100g Risotto Rice
2 tbsp Chicken Stock Concentrate
1 litre Hot Water
300g Mushrooms
100g Frozen Peas
6 tbsp (90ml) Double Cream (Low Fat Creme Fraiche)
Sea Salt Flakes
2 Handfuls Rocket
2 tbsp Graceburn Cheese or Parmesan


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Start by dicing 300g Chicken Thigh Fillets – Skinned and Boned or 300g Chicken Breast into bite size pieces and place in a bowl with 2 tbsp Cornflour/Cornstarch, 2 tbsp Marsala Wine, 1 tbsp Garlic Paste, 1 tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves and a pinch of Sea Salt Flakes.  Stir together and set aside.

Tip – You could do this a couple of hours ahead of time – just refrigerate it in the meantime. 

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Dice 2 Medium Onions and start gently frying them in 40g Salted Butter or 20 Sprays of Frylight over a medium heat in a large saucepan with a pinch of Sea Salt Flakes. Continue cooking until the onions are soft and translucent – a good 10/15 minutes.

Tip – For the version not using butter, I add a little bit of water after 5 minutes or so to help with the softening.

Add 1 tbsp Garlic Paste and 4 tbsp Marsala Wine to the onions and keep stirring until the wine has all but reduced.

Tip – I add the garlic this late so it doesn’t burn. I add the wine before the rice (as is the common instruction) so that the rice does not absorb the uncooked wine which can result in an acrid taste to the end of the risotto. I add the garlic at the same time as the wine as this also stops the garlic from catching.

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Add 100g Risotto Rice to the onions and stir to coat the rice grains in the fat and wine residue. Add about half a cup of 1 litre Hot Water and keep stirring until the rice has mostly absorbed the liquid. Add 2 tbsp Chicken Stock Concentrate and 1 tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves to the pan along with another half cup of the water and stir while the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue to add the water a little at a time whilst you start to cook the other ingredients.

Tip – It is important to keep stirring the risotto. The stirring action helps to release the starch from the rice grains which results in a creamy risotto. It also stops the rice sticking to the pan and acts as a reminder to add the next batch of water when you feel the mix becoming too dry. Saying this, whilst it is important to stir almost continuously for the first 5 minutes or so, after that it is possible to take short breaks to deal with other aspects of the recipe. I wouldn’t advise walking away from it entirely tho – if you need to pee, just turn the heat off for a couple of minutes while you’re away.

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Quarter 300g Mushrooms and add to a large frying pan with 20g Salted Butter or no oil and a pinch of Sea Salt Flakes. Fry over a high heat until the mushrooms are golden brown, soft all of the way through and any moisture released has evaporated. Put the mushrooms aside.

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Add the marinated chicken to the frying pan over a high heat with 20g Salted Butter or 10 Sprays of Frylight and fry until golden brown and cooked all of the way through – this will take a little longer if using thighs.  Once cooked set aside until needed.

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Once the rice has absorbed all of the water and is just cooked all the way through, add the cooked mushrooms and chicken to the rice along with 100g Frozen Peas and 6 tbsp Double Cream or Low Fat Creme Fraiche.

Tip – You can tell when the rice is cooked by tasting it! 

Tip – You may need more water than stated or a bit less – as with flour the absorption rate of the rice can vary with many factors. Trust your gut. 

Stir the risotto for a couple more minutes until the peas, mushrooms and chicken have had a chance to warm right through. Check the seasoning by tasting and add more salt as needed. Lastly, add the last 1 tbsp of Marsala Wine so that the flavour is good and prominent in the finished dish.

Serve in two pasta bowls with one handful of Rocket and 1 tbsp Graceburn or Parmesan as a topping. 

Ginger Beer Ham with Southern Comfort Glaze

I first made this ham for a Band of Bakers event a couple of years ago. Admittedly it’s on the fringe of ‘baking’ but I enjoy tenuous almost as much as I enjoy my carnivore tendencies. It’s a well know fact that the only thing better than meat is meat coated in booze so this went down pretty well. Almost as well as the box of chicken nuggets I took to the chocolate event!

I recently remade this as a centrepiece for my baking themed thirtieth birthday party along with my Super Garlicky Cheesy Tear’n’Share Loaf. Unlike with the bread, I did make two lots and initially thought I’d massively over catered but within 5 minutes of declaring the buffet opening, I’d had to start carving the second joint so I guess it was a hit again!

The pictures here are therefore mostly for a double batch but the quantities and instructions I’ve given are for just the one large joint.

You could use any kind of Bourbon, Run, Whiskey or something like Cointreau instead of the Southern Comfort.

Warning – this is best made the day before you want to eat it as a night in the fridge makes this much much easier to carve.

Serves 10-15 on a buffet, 8-10 as a main component

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Ingredients:

1 medium Unsmoked Gammon Joint (about 3kg)
2 White Onions
1 litre Fiery Ginger Beer (I used sugar free)
1 tbsp Ginger Paste

The Glaze:

2 tbsp Mustard Powder or English Mustard
2 tbsp Runny Honey
1 tbsp Sea Salt Flakes
3 tbsp Muscavado Sugar
3 tbsp Southern Comfort


First of all you need to select a good joint. Fat is the key here, you need a good layer to take the glaze, it keeps the whole thing moist (sorry) and assists in making the cooking liquor good and gelatinous. It doesn’t matter if its skin on or off but again the skin will help with the jelly.  I would also err on the side of unsmoked. I have made ginger beer ham with a lightly smoked joint and it’s ok but it’s better unadulterated.

Remove 1 medium Unsmoked Gammon Joint (about 3kg) from it’s packaging and place in a large pan.

Tip – To be honest a pan a little larger than the one I had would have been ideal but a fairly snug fit is fine, you may need to top up the ginger beer level part way through cooking.

Quarter 2 White Onions with the skin on and tuck the pieces down the side of the ham.

Add 1 litre Fiery Ginger Beer to the pan or until the joint is covered and stir in 1 tbsp Ginger Paste then put the pan onto a medium heat. Cover with a lid and leave for about 2 and a half hours.

Tip – Check the ginger beer level every now and again top up if required.

Remove the cooked ham from the liquor and leave to drain on some kitchen towel and cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to as high as it will go and prepare a pan to use to glaze the ham.

Tip – I used a disposable foil pan in a roasting tray. Essentially you are going to create a heinous sticky mess so unless you want to spend an hour scrubbing out a pan, line something really well with a few layers of foil or something else that can be disposed of. Make it quite a snug fit to minimise wasting the glaze.

Remove any skin from the ham and add it back to the cooking liquor. Put the pan back on the boil to reduce the sauce down to about 200ml of liquid.

Score the ham fat in a diamond pattern.

Mix 2 tbsp Mustard Powder or English Mustard,  2 tbsp Runny Honey,  1 tbsp Sea Salt Flakes,  3 tbsp Muscavado Sugar and 3 tbsp Southern Comfort in a small bowl.

Rub the glaze all over the ham and pop it into the lined cooking tray.

When the oven is at full temperature, put the ham in for 5 minutes then remove and baste the glaze that has melted off back over the ham. Repeat this process 4 or 5 times until most of the glaze is baked onto the ham itself and its turned golden.

Leave the ham loosely covered to cool and then put in the fridge overnight – it will be much easier to carve the next day.

Meanwhile, once the cooking liquor has reduced, strain it to remove the onion and ham fat and leave to cool. Once it has been in the fridge a while, the layer of fat can be skimmed off. The resulting leftover sauce can be used to deglaze the glaze cooking pan which will add an extra depth of flavour.

Can be served hot or cold with the sauce and ideally some soft bread, cheese and the cooking liquid sauce.