Damn! I just dropped the piece of chicken into the jar of chilli jam. Literally scraping the last few fiery flecks of sweet chilli onto the scalloped chicken breast “gallina empana” I look back, even though a few months late, at what was a highly successful seasonal cooking extravaganza.
Seduced and inspired by Nigella, whom I watch avidly every December, I began my preparations to launch myself into the Christmas Spirit (or several spirits as the case may be)!
I met a friend for a coffee one day to plan what food and cocktail we could make for a party of approx 20 people. She whipped out the Christmas cooking bible that is Nigella Christmas; I am almost sure but I think everyone stopped and turned in our direction! I stroked each and every glossy photo; gently fingered pages and salivated over every Christmas buffet party-clad table, and set to task.
The Christmas Cocktail that we decided upon was Poinsettia – a severely quaffable fizzy wine based cocktail with cointreau and cranberry juice.
“When you run out of cointreau you know it is going to be a good party!”
Foodwise, other than the usual fare* we decided on:
Cranberry and soy-glazed cocktail sausages**, Chilli Jam for cheeses, Union Square Cafe nuts, Tuna Salad, Christmas Rocky Road and Peanut butter cups.
*Gibraltarian households celebrate Christmas with spanish charcuterie – this can be a thing of magnificence; the omnipresent chorizo, the majestic jamón (Pata Negra) and the angelic salchichon. As well as Manchego cheese sliced onto plates and drizzled with olive oil.
Cranberry and Soy-glazed Cocktail Sausages:
These were an absolute hit and will become a regular feature at my future parties.
1st: Put sausages into a disposable roasting tin (to save on labourious washing up after the party when your head cleverly just wants to go to bed!)
2nd: Mix 125ml of sweet chilli sauce, 60ml cranberry sauce, 60ml soy sauce, 1 tbls dark brown sugar, juice of 1 clementine and juice of 1 lime together and pour over the sausages. Coat evenly.
3rd: Cook in a hot oven for 40mins with a shake of the oven dish half way through cooking.
These are so lip-smackingly good that you’ll have guests asking for more! **Alternatively replace the sausages for spare ribs. I however, find that, the spare ribs even though delicious in this sauce, need an extra 10mins in the oven with some honey over to make them extra-sticky-finger-licking-good! This perhaps isn’t ideal for parties but make a great mid-week treat over a few beers.
Union Square Cafe Nuts:
1st: Roast some mixed nuts in the oven.
2nd: Melt some butter and mix together with dark muscovado sugar, salt, cayenne pepper and finely chopped rosemary.
3rd: Mix the nuts into this butter mixture.
These nuts are so ridiculously moreish, you will come up with all sorts of reasons to make these again and again and again!
My pièce de résistance was Chilli Jam. I made it with the intention of giving away food presents this year (last year at time of writing!) but could not find jars small enough to be able to make a good batch of them. So I ended up just making 3 x 500ml jars; keeping one for myself and giving the other two away as presents.
1st: Place 1Kg bag of Jam Sugar into a saucepan and pour over 600ml of cider vinegar.
2nd: Warm through until the sugar dissolves.
3rd: Deseed 150g of red bell pepper and 150g of red chillis and place into a blender. Blitz until finely chopped.
4th: Add to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for 10 mins on a very high heat.
Allow the mixture to cool for about 40mins without stirring. As it cools the jam becomes more viscous. Place into sterilised jars. Enjoy!
I made this again during December, this time for my brother and sister-in-law whilst staying at their house over the Christmas holidays but was requested to make it hotter, so therefore added a few birds-eye chillies into the mix as well. Whilst the sweetness and chilli taste was still there there was an increased tingle on the lips and at the back of the throat.
WARNING: Whilst cooking, the boiling birds-eye mixture made my eyes water and made me cough incessantly. My face (unintentionally) received a chilli steam facial which was sore for a while after. Oh and the rest of the house complained about the vinegary smell.
Regardless, having finished off my jar of chilli jam, I shall be making some more (original strength) very soon. I’ve used it on cheeses, cold meats, gallina empana, croquettes, in sandwiches, in wraps, on chips, as a dip for nachos… the list goes on. And it is with great respect and authority, hand on my heart, trumpets sounding, that I say:
Nigella is for life, not just for Christmas!