Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

After spending the past two weeks catering for a large family, parties and feasting on rich food – suddenly the thought of having to return to a food-routine and creating simple suppers for one is quite daunting.

Since mid December, my diet has generally been three courses (both at lunch and dinner) decadent and full of festive indulgence, or should I say indigestion!  And even now as I sit here contemplating how much I’ve eaten I am still trying to organise another festive offering of food and wine – literally squeezing the Christmas out of the final days of the holidays.

My festive kitchen has had me busy creating the now traditional foodie gifts my friends and family so look forward to, such as chilli jam, cookies in a jar, biscotti and limoncello.  This year saw a few new ideas in the form of gingerbread men mix in a jar, fig and olive chutney, chocolate puddini bon bons and sweet potato and pine nut delights (piezecitas) which I made with friends at what has now become our traditional Christmas cookathon.

An absolute joy to prepare and eat was the smoked salmon terrine that we ate as our Christmas Eve starter and finished off on Christmas Day!  My only comment about this is that it is imperative that your knife is razor sharp as otherwise you won’t be able to make clean slices through the terrine.  A beautiful beef carpaccio, my crème brûlée, plum crumble and deconstructed seafood cocktail were also stars at our Christmas table.

So once the tree comes down and the Wise Men return East I wonder what January will hold for me in my kitchen?

Happy New Year!

Looking through recipe books and scouring websites, there are many Mulled Wine recipes all of them purporting to be “Christmas in a glass” served on stoves next to roaring log fires in Alpine ski lodges but I have to be honest and say that I am glad to have found a cider version of this tradition of mulling drinks.

Christmassy, warming and silky – this drink will kick off any evening to a festive start.

Let’s be honest; mulled wine can sometimes taste a bit like cough syrup!  The first mouthful can be beautiful but every sip from then on becomes one out of politeness and not necessarily enjoyment; I find that the minute it drops below a certain temperature it then actually becomes quite sickly and you’re never sure if a top up would be a good idea or not.

However, mulled cider, still embodying the tradition of a Christmassy spiced, warming drink has none of the negative connotations that mulled wine brings.  It still has the traditional flavours of cinnamon and clove you want at this time of year but they are the subtle backnote to a fruity and fizzy December cocktail.

Mulled Cider

1 Litre of dry Cider

2 clementines

1 Tblspn soft dark brown sugar

A decent splosh of dark rum

A teacup of raspberry tea

4 cloves

3 cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

½ tspn of vanilla paste

A rasp of nutmeg

Method:

1st: Make a cup of raspberry tea and allow to steep for a few minutes. Mulled Cider

2nd: Pour the litre of cider into a saucepan and place on a low heat.  Pick a decent cider – no White Lightning here!

3rd: Cut the clementines in half, some people stud the skin with the cloves.  Add these to the pan.

4th: Crush the cardamom pods under the weight of your knife, and add these, the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and any other spices you wish to the pan.

5th: Pour in the fruit tea, dark rum and vanilla paste.

6th: Add a table spoon of soft dark brown sugar and allow the flavours to infuse.  Serve in a glass with a rasp of nutmeg over.

If at any point the clove or cinnamon become overpowering remove them from the pan.  You have to control this as it really is a matter of taste.

You need to give this recipe a go, especially if you don’t like mulled wine.  I have tinkered with a few ingredients to suit what I had in the cupboard at the time but feel free to go with whatever spice you prefer.  A dare say an apple and cinnamon tea would also be amazing but I used Red Berry Blush which works very well here.

Dangerously quaffable!

As much fun as the run up to Christmas is – the actual event divides us.  The stress of buying presents that outdo the ones you gave last year or the traditional family arguments has everyone bee-lining for the drinks cabinet upon arrival!  And even though you don’t need a manual to overcome the holiday blues, here is my mantra to see you through the ‘Season of Goodwill’ without needing rehabilitation.

All you need to remember is that Christmas is all about tradition.  Food tradition.  

Presents may come and go but ultimately the reunion of family and friends around a table sharing the same food is what is important.  And what stays with you when you grow-up is the familiarisation and comfort that that food tradition brought.

Our family’s food tradition at Christmas, like many other families in Gibraltar (other than the quintessential prawns, cured meats and cheeses plentiful at every Christmas table) was that on 24th December we would have roast leg of pork followed by my Granny’s trifle and on 25th December we would have roast turkey followed by Christmas pudding and custard with Grandpa’s cinnamon-induced-coughing-fits!

Boxing Day is where many families differed.  In our house, so as not to waste the good meat from Christmas Day, we would have croquettas.

A croqueta is a small breadcrumbed fried food roll containing mashed potatoes and ground meat/shellfish/fish/vegetables and mixed with bechamel sauce.

Again – how your family made these is another tradition.  Making a bechamel sauce would make it richer in taste and definitely more decadent but in a bid to use up Christmas roast leftovers, we would use any remaining roast potatoes (usually having to quickly boil some more) and leftover turkey.  I always remember my Mum and Grandpa processing turkey and potato leftovers in one of those 70’s/80’s stand alone beige plastic electric food grinders.  Then shaping the croquetas into sausage shaped rolls and dregging them through breadcrumbs, egg and then breadcrumbs again before frying them in oil.

croquettes

Even now, celebrating Christmas in the Uk our family tradition is kept going.  Leftover turkey and roasties are destined to be Boxing Day croquetas.  More recently I’ve been partnering these with my homemade chilli jam but ketchup is just as great!  

By the looks of it, we’re not the only family to do this, as Antony Worrall Thompson has provided a turkey and ham croqueta recipe in the Daily Mail’s Boxing Day edition. 

So remember, keeping your food traditions is what it is all about.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and wish you the best for the New Year.

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!

Chilli Jam:

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!