Posts Tagged ‘christmas cooking’

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!

“You got paid early in December ready for Christmas, so you are currently skint. Your New Year diet regime has now slipped and you are hoovering up food like there’s no tomorrow.” New Year’s resolutions start flying out the window and all those gym clothes you bought are a constant reminder of how little exercise you are actually doing! Using the following formula:

\frac{[W + D-d] T^Q}{M N_a}

where: Weather, debt, Time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions (Q), low Motivational levels and the feeling of a Need to take action (D is undefined) scientists have predicted that the most depressing day of 2013 will be Monday 21st January .

So with five days to go until we apparently become depressed about life, the economy, the weather and complain about all and sundry – becoming a veritable Victor Meldrew – how prepared are you to face the year that is still at large?

Food Enhancement

There are many things that alter our moods that we have no control over but the one thing that we can rescue and take charge of is the food we eat. What you eat and when you eat has a big impact on how we feel.

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Choosing foods that have a lower glycemic index will help fill you up and sustain your energy levels for longer as they help your blood sugars stay stable. I have previously mentioned the health benefits of porridge in “Oat to a Good Start”. Other food items that have a low glycemic index are pulses and lentils.

“Lentils giving us a double whammy of health benefits and prosperity for the new year!”

Lentils are in the top six auspicious foods providing the consumer with luck and providence for the year ahead. In Italy it is customary to eat sausages and green lentils just after midnight as you see in the New Year. So with health and good fortune in mind I present you with my two favourite lentil dishes:

Pan Fried Salmon and Lentils:

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1st: Chop a medium onion and slowly fry in a saucepan.

2nd: Add your Puy Lentils and slick in the oily onion mixture.

3rd: Add 3 times the amount of water to lentils and add a stock cube. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 25mins.

4th: Once the lentils have cooked for approx 20mins, put the salmon fillet onto a very hot skillet. Cook on its presentation side for approx 5mins and then flip it onto its skin side for a further 4mins. If you are cooking any greens to go with make sure these are ready to go once the salmon is cooked.

5th: Plate up!

Not only are the lentils great here but the salmon high in Omega-3 and the asparagus rich in antioxidants and nutrients makes this a power-meal.

Lentils and Sausages:lentils6

1st: Prepare the lentils as in the recipe above.

2nd: Cook your sausages on a low heat for around 15mins turning throughout they cooking until the colour all around.

3rd: Once the sausages are ready remove them from the pan and add a splosh of red wine / port to deglaze the pan. Crush some garlic into this and stir. Scrape the sticky bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and reduce until the ‘red gravy’ is slightly thicker.

4th: Plate up! Pour the juices over the sausages and lentils. Sprinkle with some fresh parsely.

Lentils love pork – my Gran used to make lentils with chopped chorizo pork sausage and I normally pick a herby variety however, the ones in the photo above are a venison and merlot variety.

So with a plate of lentils on my lap to warm me this winter’s night I wish you health and happiness for the year to come. Don’t leave it to fate – break the Blue Monday curse.

Enjoy…

December arrived before I managed to hear it creeping up on me but once 1st Dec dawned upon us I couldn’t wait to literally Deck the Halls!

Christmas is my favourite time of the year – I love everything about it.  From preparation to execution I am a complete convert.  The minute I see a twinkling fairy light (a traditional warm light none of those modern blue LED monstrosities!) and holly wreathed front door I both exude and want to be filled with Christmas Spirit (or two).

But after all what is Christmas if not a festival of excess; of everything:       food, drink and cheer.

Before I get slated by those that believe that Christmas is all about faith, I’m not trying to ridicule that Christmas; the Christmas I’m talking about is clearly the Pagan Saturnalia version which is all about merry-making, excess and misrule.  My sort of festival!

Where to begin?  In the same way that December arrives it will rapidly move into January.  The best way to make the most of the food and drink that will be consumed this season is: 1) Plan and prepare ahead and 2) Not to worry about the effects of this indulgence on the waistline.

So I started my Christmas cooking off gently by getting some pots of Chilli Jam organised, Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti and Sesame Toffee Snaps.

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Chilli Jam

1st) Put 150g of red peppers and 150g of red chillies into a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.

2nd) Pour 600ml of cider vinegar into a saucepan with 1Kg of jam sugar (high in pectin).  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

3rd: Pour the red flecks of chilli and pepper into the vinegar and bring to the boil.  Boil ferociously for 10mins and then allow the mixture to cool for approx 45mins before you decant into sterilised jars.

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Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti

I have already included this recipe from Joyofbaking.com before.  It is included in a previous blog titled

“I know what you did last summer…biscotti!”    

Please click on the link to be taken to the recipe.

 Sesame Seed Toffee Snaps

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The third of the Christmas goodies were the sesame seed toffee snaps.  Very easy to make but take caution as you will be working with boiling sugar.

1st) Put 455g of Caster Sugar into a saucepan with 8 tablespoons of water.  Bring to the boil.

2nd) Once the sugar boils and turns a nutty brown colour (take care not to burn it) add 200g of sesame seeds.  Mix well and pour onto a greased baking sheet.  Smooth it down to create  a thin continuous layer.

3rd) When cold and hard break the snap into pieces.  Enjoy on its own or use to mop up desserts.

Ok – so it’s not the onslaught of the Xmas Turkey with all the trimmings but these are three easy but impressive Christmas goodies to either devour yourself or give as gifts.  Why not give one a try and let me know how you got along.

If I don’t get a chance to wish it before – Merry Christmas.

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!